Pray that Your Kids Get Caught

Years ago, I told a younger mom that I always prayed my kids would get caught if they were doing anything wrong.

“Why do you do that?” the gal wanted to know. “Wouldn’t it be better to pray that they won’t do anything bad?”

I laughed, thinking that it would take a lot more faith to pray her prayer than mine. And when I read Susan Alexander Yates’ post this week about praying that her kids would get caught, I knew I had to share it with you.

(Not just because–true story–I also threw mud balls at a police car.)

(And not just because I also got caught.)

I knew I had to share Susan’s post because, back when my friend asked why I prayed the way that I did, I think I mumbled something about wanting sin to be exposed or how kids grow and learn when they have to own their mistakes. I still stand by those words, but golly. I wish I had put it then like Susan does now.

Here she is…

Why You Should Pray Regularly that Your Kids Get Caught

(Guest post by Susan Alexander Yates)

This Is Why You Should Pray Regularly That Your Kids Get Caught!

I want to encourage you to pray that your kids get caught.

What?”

“Why would I want to do that??”

We had 5 kids in 7 years. Even today, as a grandmother of 21, I can still feel the exhaustion of those early years. Raising young kids is hard for many reasons, but one is that you train and train without seeing results for many years. It’s discouraging.

Why doesn’t this child get it? I’ve told him over and over! Will he ever learn?”

Our kids keep us on our knees. One of the things John and I prayed for each of our kids was that if they were doing anything wrong they’d get caught. It’s far better to get caught when you are young, living at home, and your foolishness is less likely to be as serious.

Our kids were not thrilled with this prayer of ours!

Let me share a personal story:

When our son Chris was about 11 he and his buddy Nate decided to make clay “cannon balls,” hide behind a bank next to a road, and throw them at passing cars…

Continue reading This Is Why You Should Pray Regularly That Your Kids Get Caught! at SusanAlexanderYates.com

_______

Want to know more about how you can pray for things like honesty and integrity in your kids? Check out Susan and John Yates’ book, Character Matters: Raising Kids with Values that Last.

And psst…if you’ve got a copy of the just-released updated edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens, check out chapter 6… 😉

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens (on black table)

…or chapters 8 and 17 in Praying the Scriptures for Your Childrenin which kids get caught stealing crayons, vandalizing their school, and accessing some unwanted content on the computer…

Praying the Scriptures book on the beach

…OR, if you know Numbers 32:23 (“you may be sure that your sin will find you out”) and you just need a prayer you can pray  RIGHT THIS MINUTE, try this one:

Heavenly Father,

Keep ____ from deceitful ways. Teach them to choose the way of faithfulness and equip them to hold fast to your statutes so that they will never be put to shame. (Psalm 119:29-31)

Amen

❤️

(As always, if you use the links in this post to order any books, I get a small commission. And as always, I only tell you about the really good stuff. Susan and John’s book was the first parenting “how-to” book I ever purchased, and it’s still one of my favorites!)

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When teens don’t tell the truth

(Note: This post ran earlier this week as part of the Strength & Dignity devotional series at Club31Women.com. I’m sharing it here because we’re celebrating launch week for Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens and there’s a whole chapter in that book about honestly, integrity, and praying for your teens to tell the truth!)

God prompts us to pray (Club31Women graphic)

“Where were you last night?”

Molly eyed her daughter, watching for any hint of deception. Her maternal instincts had kicked into overdrive, but she wanted to give Jenna a chance to tell the truth before she confronted her with what she already knew: that Jenna had left a birthday party with a boy and then shown up—much later—at a girlfriend’s house where she had been invited to spend the night.

“I was at Allie’s house.”

“How did you get there?”

“Brian drove me there after the party.”

“Did you kiss him?” Molly asked.

“Mom!” Jenna protested. “What’s with all the questions?”

Molly hadn’t planned to ask about the kissing; the question had simply popped into her head. And now that Jenna had sidestepped the issue, she sensed she had hit a mark.

“Did you kiss him?” she repeated.

“No, Mom!” Jenna scoffed. “Nothing happened.”

There it was—the slightest cloud flickered across Jenna’s face, signaling to Molly that her daughter was not telling the truth. Molly didn’t really care whether or not Jenna had kissed anyone; that wasn’t the primary issue. It was the lying that mattered—and lately, it seemed that Jenna had been lying about a lot of things…

What to do when you teenager lies

If you’ve caught your teen in a lie—or if lying seems to have become a pattern in their life—you probably know how Molly felt. She was discouraged, angry, and exhausted. And as she read verses like Jeremiah 9:5, she was also scared. “No one tells the truth,” the prophet warned. “With practiced tongues they tell lies; the wear themselves out with all their sinning.”

There’s no question that lying gets easier with practice. And in a world where shifting blame, denying guilt, and withholding key information has become commonplace, it’s no surprise that our teens can twist the truth, break promises, and even tell bald-faced lies without feeling like they’ve hurt anyone or done something wrong.

So what do we do? How should we respond when our kids don’t tell the truth?

For starters, don’t panic. Nothing you are facing comes as a shocker to God, and when he reveals something—even the ugliest something—in our teens’ lives, it isn’t to scare us. It’s to prompt us to pray. Our prayers release God’s power to accomplish his purposes in the lives of the people we love.

Our prayers release God's power

Next, try to discover what motivated the lie. Was it fear? Insecurity? A desire to “cover” for friends? Ask God to reveal anything you need to know so that you can be specific and intentional when you pray.

And finally, remember where lies originate. Satan is the father of lies. He likes nothing better than to get you to believe his twisted words—including the lie that your kids are “doomed” when they blow it, that nothing will ever change, or that you’ve failed as a parent when your teens take a wrong turn.

Satan’s speaks deceit and destruction; God’s language is redemption and love. Trust God’s power to provide as you pray, knowing that his deepest desire is to lead your family to the Truth and set you free.

God delights in those who tell the truth


Read

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth. (Proverbs 12:22)

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. (Psalm 34:12-13)

Reflect

As you ask God to help your teens tell the truth, think about your own life. What lies is the enemy trying to get you to believe? Has he whispered that your family is a mess, or that you will never get it right? Don’t listen! Remember that Satan is the father of lies, but that God is the Father of Love. He has started a good work in your family’s life and he can be counted on to complete it, and his deepest longing is to set your family free.

Respond

Heavenly Father,

Help my teens–help me–to believe you and hold to your teaching. Keep our tongues from evil and our lips from telling lies. Take delight in our family and set us free. (John 8:31-32Psalm 34:12-13; Proverbs 12:22)

Amen

❤️

P.S. You can read the rest of Molly and Jenna’s story in the updated edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens, the latest release in the bestselling Praying the Scriptures series. Drawing on the power of God’s Word, this book equips you to pray effectively for everything from your teen’s relationships, faith, and safety to the purposes and plans God has for their future.

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens 

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Teenagers, worry, and how we can help

Struggling with worry or fear?

Yeah, me too.

And I’m one of those people who can quote verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 and Romans 8:6 in her sleep. I know God didn’t give us a spirit of fear. I know that the spirit-controlled mind is one marked by peace. I know all of that–and I want to live like I believe it.

The thing is, though, the ongoing uncertainty and “what ifs” of a global pandemic can wear anyone down. Even if you’re not actively thinking about COVID, it’s there, like the low hum of the refrigerator, white-noising its way into our lives.

I’m not sure who has it the worst. I know loads of young parents working from home while schools and daycares are closed. I have older friends who spend their days caring for (and trying to protect) aging parents. And I’ve heard from more than a few tech-challenged colleagues who’ve blown it in some way on Zoom (although none so spectacularly as the lawyer who felt compelled to explain that he was not a cat).

We all have our struggles. But as my publishing team prepares to release the updated version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens on Tuesday, I can’t help but sympathize with the adolescents I know. Social connection is the lifeblood of a teenager’s existence, and things like remote learning, social distancing, and the long, lonely days of enforced quarantines add an extra layer of angst to their already hormone-packed lives. Throw in the stoppage of sports, the postponement of proms, and the cancellation of any number of other rites of passage in an adolescent’s life, and it’s easy to understand why our kids might have a hard time coping right now.

Teen suffering with anxiety/worry

A pimple is one thing; a pandemic can take teenage anxiety to a whole new level.

(Adult anxiety too. And even as my heart aches for teenagers, I realize that it’s also hard on their parents.)

Helping teens find freedom from worry and fear

So what do we do? Is there a way to live without worry? Can we help our teenagers find freedom from fear?

God certainly thinks so. If you take him at his word (and I do), worry has no place in our lives.“Do not worry about anything,” he tells us in Philippians 4:6. That was the most searched and shared Bible verse in 2019–followed in 2020 by its close cousin, Do not fear.”

We know, almost instinctively, that nothing good comes from worry and fear. These emotions are never productive. Nobody wants apprehension or anxiety to color their life. And nobody wants that for their kids.

But is obeying a command like “Do not worry” even possible–whether we’re talking about ourselves or our teens?

"Do not worry" command

No.

Not in our own strength, anyway.

We’re too frail. I have one friend who says she refuses to give in to worry (“Take every thought captive!” is her rallying cry), but even she would admit to slipping, sometimes.

That’s the bad news: we are weak. The good news—the great news, actually—is that God never gives us a command that he doesn’t also give us the power to fulfill. We might not stand a chance against worry and fear on our own, but we can tap into the supernatural power that makes victory possible through Scripture and the Spirit.

Moving from panic to peace

God’s Word renews our minds, transforms how we think, and informs our perspective. God’s Spirit reaches into our souls, reminding us of what we know to be true and interceding with us—interceding for us—in ways that words cannot describe. And when these two forces—the Scripture and the Spirit—come together to animate our thoughts and give shape to our prayers, panic gives way to peace.

The Scripture and the Spirit photo

The very act of approaching the Lord—of saying, “Dear God, I need help”—opens the door to connection with him, ushering us into his presence and producing a sense of security that is more easily experienced than explained.

It’s a peace, Scripture says, that “transcends all understanding.” Or, as The Message version puts it…

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Isn’t that lovely? A sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.

Peaceful blue flower

It’s in that act of settling, as our thoughts and emotions center on Christ instead of our cares, that we can bring our teens and their needs before God.

We can pray for their friendships, asking God to surround them with friends who will encourage each other daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

We can pray for their sense of identity, asking God to help them realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are marvelous in his eyes. (Psalm 139:14)

And we can do battle with the unseen forces that prey on their hearts and their minds, turning that “best of 2019” verse into our personal prayer: “Don’t let ______ be anxious about anything. Instead, prompt them to pray, with thanksgiving, and let your peace guard their hearts and minds.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Anxiety Prayer (horizontal)

These are just three of the prayer prompts you’ll find in this new collection of prayer cards designed especially for teens. They’re called “Dashboard Prayers” cuz they are tiny and perfect to keep in your car—or to give to your kids to let them know you are praying the next time they ask to borrow the keys!

Dashboard Prayer Cards 2

The Dashboard Prayers are available as a free printable (and a thank you!) to my email subscribers; click here to download. And if you know someone who’d like to get these little blogs delivered to their in-box every few weeks, please encourage them to subscribe.

Anyone, though, can get a copy of the updated book. 😉 Click here to get yours!

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens

P.S. When I wrote the original Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens in 2007, “technology use” was pretty much confined to a new thing called MySpace. Back then, parents who were concerned about their teens’ drug use were talking about pot. Not fentanyl. Not prescription meds. Not the devastating pain of opioid addiction. And things like a kid’s sense of identity (“Who am I? Am I loved? Does my life have meaning or worth?”) barely registered on our collective parental radar.

Needless to say, the book needed updating. And as I worked on this new edition, it struck me again: Times change, but God doesn’t. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And his word does not return empty but always accomplishes what he desires.

❤️

 

 

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A Thanksgiving Present for You!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

I know I’m not a Monday email-er, but I’m sliding into your inbox today to kick off Thanksgiving week and let you know how much I appreciate YOU.

When we launched the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, my publishing team tucked a set of Scripture prayer cards in with some of the very first copies of the book.

prayer cards

We had no idea how popular those cards would be, but once I realized how much people liked them, I asked the design folks if they could re-create the cards in a printable form so I could share them with our growing online friend group. I’m so incredibly grateful for your encouragement and support!

Click here to download the prayer cards on your laptop or home computer (the file is too big to work on a mobile device).

The set includes thirteen different 5″ x 7″ cards featuring topics like protection, diligence, kindness, salvation, and gratitude. I think they’d be fun tucked into napkins or hidden under plates at the Thanksgiving table–maybe as a “prayer prompt” folks can use to pray for the person seated to their right, if your crew is comfy with that.

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

Or, if you’re one of those squared-away people who is already done wrapping-and-tagging, the prayer cards make meaningful stocking stuffers (especially if you pray them over your children while Santa tucks the cards in with the gifts)!

Prayer Cards as Stocking Stuffer

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a friend or a teacher, package all thirteen cards together with a little easel. I found this one on Amazon as part of a set of six; click here if that appeals.

Prayer Cards with gold easel

Or…just print the collection for yourself. 😊

And as you do, know that I have prayed each one of these prayers over you. I may not know all your names or your needs, but God does. I love knowing that you are on “the other side” of these emails, and that we can meet, as a friend of mine says, “on the bridge of prayer.”

I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)

Much love,

Jodie

P.S. The prayer cards are meant as a thank you gift for email subscribers, but if you want to forward this note, that’s fine with me. Of course, I always love “meeting” new friends, so if you know someone who might like to receive these posts and prayer prompts (the emails show up once or twice a month on random Fridays), please invite them to subscribe. Thank you for sharing!

 

 

 

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Praying for Your Children to be Healthy and Safe

(Note: This post, Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe, ran earlier this week at Club31Women.com, a community of women who are committed to building strong marriages, healthy families, and vibrant relationships with the Lord. You’ll find lots of helpful resources there, from tips on parenting teens to weeknight recipes to a free guide to finding PEACE in your home. Um…yes please!)

I want God to keep my kids safe (2)

Praying for Your Children to Be Healthy and Safe

When the Coronavirus first began spreading, our daughter Virginia—who lives in New York City—decided that she should evacuate and come social distance with us. That sounded like a good plan to me; Virginia is a lot of fun, and she’s always full of ideas.

One of her ideas, as she left New York, was to swing by the SPCA and pick up a kitten.

Virginia keeping her kitten safe

Five months later, we were still working from home—my husband and I, two of our four adult children, our one-year-old puppy, and the cat. Everyone seemed happy. One morning, though, Virginia woke up and noticed that Quarantine Kitty had a cut or a burn of some sort on her neck. She was still purring so we didn’t think it was fatal, but Virginia wasn’t taking any chances. She bundled the cat into the car and was at the vet’s office by the time it opened.

The cat, as it turned out, was fine. But Virginia was not. She was rattled.

“I love this kitty so much,” she said, “I can’t stand to think of her getting hurt—”

She stopped, mid-sentence, and looked at me. “Mom,” she said, “I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a child who gets sick or hurt…how panicked you must feel. I bet it’s even worse than when it’s your cat.”

Um, yes. It is worse.

And whether it’s the baby’s 2 a.m. fever, the child’s bloody knees on the playground, or the teenager’s late-night phone call, we all know what it’s like to feel that lump of fear in our throat, to want our kids to be safe, to protect them however we can.

So what do we do?

We pray. We do what 1 Peter 5:7  invites us to do:  We cast all our anxiety on God, because he cares for us.

“I want God to keep my kids safe.”

Twenty years ago, when I began working on a book about how we can pray for our children, I surveyed more than one hundred parents about what they wanted God to do for their families.  One of the most oft-repeated answers was, “I want God to keep my kids safe.”

Boy, did I understand that. We had four kids in six years, and it seemed that somebody was always getting sick or—in Virginia’s case, anyway—running into a doorknob or (not making this up) eating part of a glass thermometer. I knew she was tough, but I wondered how long her luck would hold out. What would become of Virginia during her teenage years?

I remember crying out to the Lord, asking him to protect her. “What happened to the hedge of protection and the guardian angels I asked you to provide for our children?” I cried. “Aren’t you paying attention?”

Almost immediately I sensed God’s answer. “I am protecting Virginia,” he spoke to my heart. “In fact, I’ve had to put some of my best angels on the job, just to keep her alive!”

It sounds funny now, but God’s promise of angelic protection—an invitation he extends to all of us in Psalm 91—was made real over and over again in Virginia’s life, as she grew. And now, as we release the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I can attest to his faithfulness.

My kids—like all kids, I guess—had their share of lumps, bumps, and bruises. And I know that the Psalm 91 promise is not some sort of magical “guarantee” that our children won’t have to suffer. But I am convinced that God hears and answers our prayers, and that his John 15:7 promise (“If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”) is true.

Scripture Prayers You Can Pray

Our children are grown, but I am still asking God to protect them and keep them safe. How am I praying? Here are two of my favorite scripture-based prayers; feel free to personalize these for the people you love:

I pray that all may go well with _____ and that they may be in good health, as it goes well with their soul. (3 John 2) 

Let ______ take refuge in you and be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over ______ that they may rejoice in you. (Psalm 5:11)

You’ll find dozens more prayer prompts like these—prayers for our kids’ physical safety, as well as their spiritual and emotional health—in the new book.

God never meant for us to have to keep our children safe on our own. He meant for us to pray, slipping our hand into his as we trust him to accomplish his plans and his purposes in our kids’ lives. And as you pray, know that I am praying for you: “May God cause you to flourish, both you and your children.” (Psalm 115:14)

❤️

You’ll find prayers for your children’s safety, relationships, faith, character, their future, and more in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary EditionThe hardcover volume comes with a satin ribbon and a presentation page (making it perfect for gift-giving), but it’s available in paperback, too. Click here to order.

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Teach Children to Pray (with these free printables!)

How can I teach my children to pray? Where do I start?

I hear questions like these all the time. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed–at least not outside of church,” was how one young mom put it. “Prayer feels awkward and unfamiliar sometimes. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

That’s actually a really good question–and one that led to a new bonus section in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition. The updated book includes pages designed especially to help you teach your children to pray, talking to God not just for them, but with them:

Teach Children to Pray Section in book

Say, for instance, that your child feels anxious or scared. Maybe it’s a conflict with a friend, a fear of the dark, or the fact that the dog really did eat the homework. There’s a discussion starter at the top of the page (“Everyone gets worried or scared sometimes…”), followed by a collection of easy-to-read verses (“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”), and then a prayer prompt that reinforces the link between our needs and God’s provision.

Teach Children to Pray about Feeling Anxious

Every family is different, and what appealed to my kids might not sound at all fun to yours. But as we teach our children to pray–and to depend on the power of God’s Word–it can help to give them “the Why.”

Give Your Children “the Why”

I don’t know how it is in your house, but when Hillary was about five years old, it seemed like every other word that came out of her mouth was why. Sometimes the question reflected genuine interest (“Why is the sky blue?”); sometimes it felt more defiant, like when we asked her to pick up her toys (“Why?”); and sometimes I had no idea what she was even asking about. Once, in an effort to get her to stop peppering me with so many questions, I threatened to punish her if she asked “Why” one more time.

(You can guess what she said.)

Hillary may have been an extreme case on the inquisitive scale (and she grew up to become an aerospace engineer, so maybe she is?), but I think that all kids are naturally curious. And rather that just slapping a Scripture on the kitchen table as a prayer prompt, it helps if we offer some context.

God’s Word makes things happen

Our kids need to know that God’s Word makes things happen. He spoke the whole world into being, starting with light. All the verses we read in Scripture come straight from God to help us know right from wrong and equip us for every good work. And when the words in the Bible go out into the world, they always accomplish what God desires!

As you teach your children to pray, share these things as the backdrop for why there is power in God’s Word. And then introduce them to John 15:7, where Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Tell them what you already know: that the more we spend time in the Bible, allowing what we find there to shape our perspective as well as our prayers, the more the things we want God to do will line up with what he already has planned!

Think this is all a bit much for your kids? I hear you. I was you. Longtime blog readers may remember that, for years, our “morning devotions” consisted of somebody yelling “Bus!” and everyone scrambling for their shoes as I stood in the doorway stuffing permission slips into backpacks and saying things like, “Walk with the King today–and be a blessing!”

(Not making that up. But hey, the Bible says we shouldn’t despise small beginnings; everyone has to start somewhere!)

Coloring Pages, Bedside Prayer Cards, and More

I know that teaching children to pray can be hard. But even the littlest ones have concerns of their own–their friendships, their future, their faith–and the sooner they learn to anchor their prayers in God’s promises, the better equipped they will be to trust him as they grow. Which is why, when we were putting the Anniversary Edition together, my publishing team and I came up with a few kid-friendly resources–colorful printables that reflect the pages and the scripture-prayers in the book.

These little lunchbox cards are perfect for popping into a book bag or taping on the bathroom mirror:

Lunchbox cards to teach children to pray

These 5″ x 7″ bedside prayer cards are the same prayers kids will find in the book:

Bedside Prayer Cards to Teach Children to Pray

And these coloring pages (drawn by my incredibly talented ARTIST-MOM, Claire Gilman!!) make hiding God’s Word in your heart extra fun:

Teach Children to Pray coloring pages

Teach Children to Pray Girl Coloring

Girls coloring - teach children to pray

Want to order the book? Click here – it ships on Tuesday!

Want to view the collection of printable resources? Here you go.

Just want a prayer for your own anxious heart as you head into the weekend? Let’s go ahead and borrow this one from the kids:

Heavenly Father,

I am anxious and afraid about _____. Help me put my trust in you and pray instead of worrying. Thank you for your promise to be with me wherever I go. Help me to be strong and courageous and to rely on the Holy Spirit to give me power, love, and self-discipline. (Psalm 56:3; Philippians 4:6; Joshua 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:7)

Amen

Book by Jodie Berndt with foreword by Audrey Roloff

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Technology and Your Children (and three prayers you can pray)

Twenty years ago, when I wrote the first edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, the biggest kids-and-technology question Robbie and I faced was whether to let our children watch PG movies. On VHS tapes.

Today’s parents face a whole new nest of tech-related concerns–whether it’s the “easy-everywhere” access to online content, the threat of things like cyber bullying, or the very real (and increasingly common) link between high social media usage and low self-esteem and depression.

“The word I might use to describe how parents feel about kids and technology,” one father told me, “is probably panic. Or maybe terror.”

But technology isn’t going away; it will play an important role in our children’s future. Which is why, when I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary EditionI interviewed a bunch of younger parents to see how they were parenting–and praying–with regard to this vital issue. And (spoiler alert) the news isn’t all bad. There are some really good things we can do (and pray!) as we work to keep our children safe and teach them to, as author Andy Crouch says, put technology “in it’s proper place.”

Here’s a sneak peek at an excerpt from the new book–which releases in less than two weeks!–along with a few prayers you can pray for your family right now…

Girl and Technology, Laptop

Not if but when: One Family’s Story

Sara’s 12-year-old daughter, Allison, likes to create collages on the computer, using clip-art images and videos to make her masterpieces. At home, the computers have content filters and other parental controls, but the devices at her father’s office are not as protected. And one afternoon, when Allison was using an office computer to work on a project, some obscene pictures popped up on her screen. Immediately, her father got a text alert from his internet provider:

A porn video has been accessed from this location. A quick review of all the office computers revealed the trouble spot. But when asked what she’d seen, Allison denied all involvement. And the more her parents pressed for details, the more emotional and manipulative she became.

“That was not like her at all,” Sara said. “My radar was on high alert—and I realized that our greater concern was not what she’d seen or the exposure she’d had, but the choice she was making to lie.”

Thinking about what she calls her own “progressive sanctification”—one where the Lord continues to tenderly transform her heart—Sara resolved not to react in knee-jerk fashion, but to slow down and ask God for his counsel. “I wanted the Lord to teach me how to relate to my daughter, knowing that the way I treat her now will affect our relationship and her life in 20 years.”

She started with prayer.

God doesn’t reveal things to scare us

“I know the freedom that comes with confession,” Sara said. “I prayed that God would turn Allison’s darkness into light, and that she would know the joy of walking in that light and enjoying sweet fellowship with other people and with Jesus.”

Eager to have her own burden lifted, Sara reached out to an older friend—someone she knew she could count on not to gossip or pry, but to pray.

The woman responded with reassurance. “When God alerts us to something that is not right in our children’s lives,” she said, “it’s not because he wants us to be worried or scared. It’s because he wants us to pray. Our prayers open the door to God’s redemption, protection, and blessing in our kids’ lives.”

Noting that Allison likely felt embarrassed by what she had seen (and maybe scared to admit it), Sara’s friend pointed her toward Psalm 25 as a prayer prompt:

  • Let Allison put her hope in you, Lord. Let her never be put to shame. (v. 3)
  • Relieve the troubles of Allison’s heart; free her from her anguish. Take away all her sins. (v. 17-18)
  • Guard Allison’s life, rescue her, be her refuge. May integrity and uprightness protect her. (v. 20-21)

Sara and her husband continued to pray verses like these, trusting in the Genesis 50:20 promise that God could take something so clearly intended for evil and use it to bring about something good in Allison’s life.

It wasn’t long before he did. The following Sunday, after hearing their pastor talk about the freedom the comes with confession and the triumph of grace over shame, Allison pulled pulled Sara aside.

“I need to talk to you, Mom.”

Allison broke down and revealed all that had happened, including her attempts to cover up what she’d seen by lying about it. As she confessed, Sara saw her daughter’s countenance change. It was as if a cloud lifted; Allison’s shadowy face became joyful and radiant.

The transformation made sense to Sara. “When we keep things hidden,” she said, “it always leads to deeper and darker things. It’s a mercy, not a burden, to be found out.”


kids and technology, phone

Three “technology use” prayers we can pray

Technology use is just one of the new chapters you’ll find in the expanded and updated version Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. Other topics include things like praying for your child’s identity and their sense of belonging, as well as strategies you can use to build a prayer legacy in your family, teaching your kids to depend on God’s promises as they grow. You can pre-order your copy today (see info, below) but in the meantime, here are three short-but-strong scripture prayers from the book that you can pray for your children right now:

Heavenly Father,

May we live with a heart of integrity in our home. Don’t let _____ set anything worthless before their eyes. (Psalm 101:2-3 CSB)

Cause _____ to look to you and be radiant, turning away from anything that would cover their face with shame. (Psalm 34:5)

Put your hedge of protection around _____. (Job 1:10)

Amen

❤️

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition ships on October 20. To preorder (and pssst, the hardcover version comes with a ribbon book mark and beautiful presentation page for gift-giving), click here for Amazon (they give me a tiny commission if you order from my site), or try ChurchSource.com, where (last time I checked) they were offering the book at a sweet pre-order discount. Whoop!

And if you missed last week’s story about praying for your children to share God’s love with their peers (my favorite prayer story in the whole book), click here to catch up!

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20 Years of Praying for Your Children

Pssst. I’ve got some exciting news, and I wanted you to hear it here first! Many of you have been praying for your children with me for twenty years and…

in just a few weeks–on October 20th, to be exact–we’re releasing the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children.

Praying the Scriptures book with Pumpkins

This new edition has all of the stories, prayer principles, and verses folks loved in the original book, but we’ve updated it to include topics like praying for your children’s use of technology and their sense of identity and self-worth, along with an encouraging message about prayer’s role in parenting from New York Times bestselling author, Audrey Roloff. Plus, there’s a whole new kid-friendly section designed to help parents pray not just FOR their kids, but WITH them, teaching them to depend on God’s promises and his power as they grow.

I’ll be sharing more in the weeks ahead (including links to the free Study Guide and the Video Series), but to kick-off this launch, I want to revisit one of my all-time favorite stories about praying for your children. Here’s an excerpt from the book…

Making the Most of Every Opportunity

For years, Friday mornings were a highlight of my week. That’s when I got together with several moms to pray for our children, their teachers, and our school community. In addition to interceding for our kids’ individual needs, we used a different verse from the Bible each week as the basis for a more general prayer that can apply to each of our children.

One morning, our collective scriptural request was for our children to have boldness in evangelism, being alert to opportunities to share the gospel with their peers. Being part of a public school community, we recognized the need for sensitivity in this area, yet we knew that God could provide open doors. We prayed according to Ephesians 5:15 – 16, that our kids would be very careful how they lived — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.

Two or three weeks went by, during which time we moved on to new requests, tucking the evangelism thoughts into the back of our minds. Then one morning Callie walked in, her face flushed with excitement. “Remember when we prayed for our kids to have boldness in evangelism and be alert to opportunities to share their faith?” she asked. “Well, listen to this . . .”

Callie began her story by reminding us about a second grader named Eddie, whose misbehavior was almost legendary in our school. We had all heard of Eddie — the tales our kids brought home tended to catapult Eddie to the top of our prayer lists, and those of us who had spent volunteer hours in Eddie’s classroom knew, firsthand, how disruptive he could be. Thinking of Eddie, we often prayed that God would give his teacher, Miss Harrison, an extra measure of wisdom, patience, and love.

Many of the children instinctively tried to put some distance between themselves and Eddie, but Callie’s son, Brandon, took a different approach. He befriended the boy, inviting him to be involved in games and on playground teams where he might otherwise have been left out. And one day when Miss Harrison asked each child, as an in-class assignment, to write a letter to someone, Brandon chose to write to Eddie.

A Life-Changing Letter

When the time came for the children to deliver the letters, those who had written to parents, grandparents, or neighbors put their notes in their backpacks to take home. Brandon simply dropped his envelope on Eddie’s desk. Eddie opened the letter with excitement, but when he took out the sheet of paper, his face fell. Eddie couldn’t read well enough to get beyond the first few words.

Recognizing the problem but not wanting to draw attention to it, Brandon quietly asked Miss Harrison if he could read the letter aloud to Eddie.

Miss Harrison just happened to love God — and Eddie — as much as Brandon did. “Yes,” she said. “You can read it to him today at recess.”

That afternoon, the two boys sat on a log under the shade of an old oak tree, oblivious to the noisy shouts and energetic games being played all around them. Eddie pulled the letter out of his pocket and, leaning closer so he could hear, waited for Brandon to read it.

Dear Eddie,

Please, please ask Jesus to come into your heart. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Jesus died on the cross for your sins.
  2. You will have eternal life.
  3. God (Jesus’ father) is maker and creator of all.
  4. You will go to heaven.
  5. You can have anything you want in heaven.
  6. I will be waiting for you.
  7. God will be waiting for you.
  8. Jesus will be waiting for you.
  9. You can do anything in heaven.

 

P.S. All you have to do is right now bow your head and say “dear Lord, I want Jesus to come into my heart so I can have eternal life.” Amen.

Opportunity to meet Jesus letter

Eddie leaned back, reflecting on Brandon’s words. “Would you,” Brandon asked cautiously, “like to pray and ask Jesus to live in your heart right now?”

Eddie met his friend’s eyes. “Yes,” he said softly.

Sitting together at the edge of the playground, the two boys bowed their heads in prayer as Brandon led Eddie into the kingdom of God… ❤️


Even today, more than twenty years after I first saw Brandon’s letter, this story still puts a big old lump in my throat. I know Brandon (not his real name) and I can tell you that, as an all-grown-up man with a job and a wife, he’s still “making the most of every opportunity” to showcase God’s love.

If you want to be praying for your children using verses like Ephesians 5:15-16, you’ll find dozens of similar scripture-based prompts in the book. Here’s one of my favorites, a verse you can pray for your kids, yourself, or anybody you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them to give the reason for their hope. Let them do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Amen

Opportunity to pre-order the book

To preorder Praying the Scriptures for Your Children: 20th Anniversary Edition, click here.

 

 

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A Prayer for the Already-Tired Teacher

Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or a teacher-parent this year, you know what it’s like to grow weary.

Even if you’re just on Week One.

Tired Cat on First Week of School

And speaking of tired…

If you’ve read Praying the Scriptures for Your Childrenyou may remember the time when Hillary (then a first-grader) came home from school and told us that she thought her new teacher was a Christian.

“How can you tell?” I wanted to know.

“Because she prays.”

“She prays?” (Our kids attended the neighborhood public school; I didn’t think teachers were allowed to pray there – at least not out loud, where their students could hear. I needed details.)

“Yes Mom,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ But sometimes she just says, ‘Oh God,’ and puts her head down on her desk.

Prayers You Can Print

If that’s where you are today – praying that nobody gets COVID, that Zoom doesn’t crash, or even just that you’ll make it ’til lunchtime – can I just say “Thank you”? As someone whose own kids are grown, I can only imagine the challenges that younger parents and teachers are facing this year.

My all-time favorite teacher prayer comes from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if they do not give up.”  This year, I’m combining that verse with two others – 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Titus 2:7-8 – and bundling them all into one “ask” for the educators, both the in-school ones and those teaching at home:

A Prayer for a Teacher

Want to print this card for yourself? Click here. (And if you’re feeling extra ambitious and want to add a few back-to-school prayers for the students, you’ll find a collection of my tried-and-true favorites here.)

Honestly though? If all you can muster this week is an “Oh God,” that’s okay. You just go ahead and put your head down on your desk.

We get it.

And those of us not in the teaching trenches will have you covered. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Do not let our teachers (and teacher-parents) get tired of doing what is good. Remind them that, at just the right time, they will reap a harvest of blessing if they don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9 NLT)

Amen

Galatians 6:9 Teacher Prayer

 

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As Good as Dead? Think again.

Is there something in your life that is as good as dead?

I’ve just taken a spin through Hebrews, and I can never get through chapter 11 without stopping at verse 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

From one man, as good as dead, came descendants as countless as sand on the seashore

That’s a reference to Abraham, the guy who laughed when God said he’d have a son. He was a hundred years old (his wife Sarah was ninety) and, as Robert Alter puts it in his Genesis commentary, it was a laugh “edged with bitterness.” Was God, Abraham wondered, playing some sort of cruel joke?

As good as dead.

How many times have we looked across the landscape of our lives–our relationships, our careers, our dreams–and thought the same thing? “Nothing is there. There’s no way this can work. That _____ (whatever it is) is as good as dead.”

Here’s the thing, though. With God, that doesn’t matter.

God brings dead things to life

God doesn’t care if we can’t see signs of life; he calls things into existence that do not exist.

Take the universe, for example. Hebrews 11:3 says it was formed “at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” God didn’t have to see something to create it; he just had to say it (“Let there be light”) and it happened.

And when God allowed Sarah to conceive, he did so (and you can check me on this in Romans 4:17) “because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.”

God brought a promise to life–he created a life–because Abraham believed.

I can hear what you’re thinking. I’ve thought the same thing: “I want to believe that God could call this thing–this marriage, this job, this hoped-for baby–into existence, but I just don’t see how it could happen. And if I don’t have faith…maybe it won’t.”

I get that. And, like I said, I have thought that. And if all we had to go on was Hebrews 11:6 (“Without faith it is impossible to please God”), the picture would look bleak, indeed.

But there is more to the story.

Three Hooks for Our Hope

There is much more we might say–much more encouragement tucked into the pages of Hebrews–but if you are struggling to believe God for something that looks and feels as good as dead, here are three hooks for your hope:

First, we don’t have to see something for it to be real. We can still believe it. Faith, Scripture says, isn’t just wishful thinking. It is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Second, faith is not something we need to create or produce in ourselves. Jesus, the Bible says, “initiates and perfects our faith.” He starts it. He finishes it. He supplies what we lack and makes it complete.

And finally, God’s horizon is infinitely bigger than ours.

When Abraham laughed, it was because he knew what God had promised–that he’d be the father of many nations–but it had not yet happened. Nor would it, he thought, at his advanced age. Abraham was, Alter says, “someone living within a human horizon of expectations.”

A human horizon of expectations. Am I the only one who reads a phrase like that one and thinks, “Ouch”?

Because we do that, don’t we? We apply our human horizons–our timelines, our procedures, our perceived ideas of what will work best–to our lives, and when things don’t turn out like we wanted or expected them to, we figure that God has let us down. Or that we didn’t have enough faith. Or that the situation, whatever it is, is as good as dead.

But it’s not.

God’s ways are higher than ours

The Bible says that God is always at work. That he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And that, when his plans or his methods don’t match up with ours, that’s okay; we can be confident that his ways are higher than ours.

Abraham is just one in a hallway of heroes whose lives are recapped in Hebrews 11. None of these people saw God’s promise fulfilled–at least not in the way, or at the time, they expected. But did that negate their faith or diminish their assurance that God would do what he said he would do? Not at all. They all died, Scripture says, “still believing,” welcoming God’s complete and perfect provision “from a distance.”

We can do the same thing. We can expand our perspective, acknowledging that our timelines (and even our lifetimes) do not limit God’s power or his provision. We can stop “living within a human horizon” and start praying with faith–with confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see–for every need.

For the prodigal child.

For the broken marriage or friendship.

For the desire–the unmet longing–that is as good as dead. We can ask God to bring that dream back to life.

Heavenly Father,

I am concerned about ______.

Please bring this dead situation or relationship back to life; create a new thing out of nothing; make something that can be seen out of what is not now visible. (Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3)

Be the source and the perfecter of my faith, providing and completing what I lack. Equip me to believe as Abraham did, against all hope, trusting that your thoughts and your ways are higher than mine. (Hebrews 12:2, Romans 4:18, Isaiah 55:8-9).

Amen

 

 

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Don’t talk to your kids about God?

(Note: This post about how we can talk to God about our children appeared earlier this week over at Club31Women as part of their new Strength and Dignity Devotional series. Thought I’d share it here in case you missed it. Happy Fourth!)

Don’t Talk to Your Kids about God?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God.”

I exchanged a look with the woman sitting next to me at the young mother’s Bible study. Where was the teacher going with this?

“Don’t talk to your kids about God,” she repeated, “nearly as much as you talk to God about your kids.”

Talk to God about your kids

Ahhh. That made more sense. And over the years, as our four children became teenagers and then young adults, that value of that advice grew right along with them.

My husband and I wanted our kids to love Jesus. We wanted to showcase God’s attributes—his faithfulness, his mercy, his power, his love—so our children would know Him. We wanted to talk about His Word, like Deuteronomy 6:6-8 says, sitting at home and walking on the road, from early in the morning until late at night.

We wanted to talk about God all the time—and there were plenty of days when our kids might say that we did.

But there were also plenty of days when they did not want to listen. Plenty of days when it felt like our children were out of our reach, emotionally and spiritually, even if they were sitting just across the dinner table. Plenty of days when all our best parenting wisdom fell flat.

The answer, those days, wasn’t to talk louder, or more. The answer was to talk to God.

Mindful of verses like Isaiah 55:11 (which promises that God’s Word does not come back empty but accomplishes his purposes), we used Scripture to give shape to our prayers.

We asked God to captivate our kids’ attention: “Make _____’s heart a stream of water in Your hand; turn it wherever You will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

We asked God to let their words and deeds line up with his plans, to give our children “the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13)

And we prayed that our kids would know how much they were loved: “I pray that _____, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

We prayed prayers like these (and we’re praying them still), knowing that shaping our kids’ faith—along with their character, their relationships, and their future—is not up to us. It’s up to God. And honestly? Even though His answers have not always looked like what we expected (or wanted, sometimes), I can say with confidence that God has been faithful.

He has listened.

And He has been good.

The next time you feel like your kids are tuning you out or like they don’t want to hear what you have to say (or like you aren’t sure how to help even if they did want your advice!), don’t be discouraged. Instead, talk to God. He’s the one who, as Romans 4:17 puts it, “calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

He can create anything—even faith—out of nothing.

Heavenly Father,

Your bend down to listen to our prayers, and you invite us to pour out our hearts to you on behalf of our children. (Psalm 116:2 and Lamentations 2:19)

Today, our need is for ___________. Please call that into existence, even if there seems to be nothing there now.

Amen

Talk to God about your kids Lamentations 2:19

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The Words We Speak to Our Kids

Mother speaking life to her daughter

What sort of words do we speak to our kids?

I’ve long been a foot-in-mouth gal, and whether it’s a joke that fell flat, an ill-timed lecture, or even an emoji that my children tell me that I’m using wrong (to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “I don’t think that symbol means what you think it means, Mom”), I often ask God to set a guard over my mouth, especially when I talk to my kids. I read verses like Proverbs 18:21 (“The tongue has the power of life and death”) and I think: Dear God, don’t let me kill them.

Last week, though, I was reminded of the flip side of the coin–as in, the positive power of the words we speak.

As part of an Instagram giveaway for two new books about how we can love our sons and daughters, I asked folks to tell me how they showed love to their kids. I got lots of uplifting responses, from creative efforts like decorating a child’s bedroom door on the eve of their birthday to simpler (but no less impactful) things like baking cookies together or doing an adult child’s laundry when he comes home. Love comes in all sorts of packages.

I scrolled through the comments, liking them all, but I paused when I got to this one:

“I have a son. I speak out what I see in him that is good, and prophesy what is not yet in him as if it is!”

Speak to the good you see now

I speak out what I see that is good…

As parents, we can get so focused on “fixing” what’s wrong that we fail to notice what’s right, particularly when it comes to the things that not everyone sees. For instance, parenting experts tell us to highlight character traits more than accomplishments. A starting spot on the soccer team or a report card full of A’s may earn peer and teacher approval, but things like patience, wisdom, humility and perseverance equip a child to flourish in life.

Take a moment to consider your kids. Do you see the good in their hearts? Attitudes that bring honor to God? Speak them out! Make a point of telling your children–in person, or with a phone call or text–how you see God’s image reflected in them. Does your son pay attention to what people need? Does your daughter light up a room? Are they (sometimes) kind to each other? Let them know that you noticed.

 Speak to what is “not yet”

…and prophesy what is not yet in him as if it is.

That’s the second part of the Instagram comment, and I can see some of you scratching your heads. But don’t get hung up on the word “prophesy.” Prophets aren’t just wild-eyed old men in long robes who predict future events or do bizarre stuff for God. Prophets are also people–regular old moms and dads–who “speak forth” God’s purposes, proclaiming and teaching God’s Word. These parents know the power that comes, sometimes without any fanfare, simply though the words that we speak.

Here’s what this might look like in everyday life:

Say you want your child to have wisdom. Envision that in his life, and speak words like this: “I can picture God shaping you into a wise and discerning young man. I have great confidence in your future.”

Or maybe you want your teen to show kindness and compassion to others. Say something like this: “I can see God’s hand on your life. I love how he is growing your heart for other people, and I admire the woman you are becoming.”

I realize that this might sound a bit..iffy. Like, you might worry that your teens will look at you sideways if you start talking like this. I get that. I hear you. But give it a try anyway. Because here’s the thing about speaking to the “not yet” in our kids: It doesn’t matter how old they are, what choices they’ve made, or how many habits or patterns look “set.” We might not have the power to change things with our words, but as we speak them over our children, God does.

God’s Word makes things happen

The Bible says God gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. He creates new things out of nothing. He’s been doing this creative and regenerative work since time began.

(“Let there be light,” for example.)

God’s Word makes things happen. There is literally no limit to what he can do. Our words might not have that same sort of supernatural power, but they still carry weight. I like how the Message translation renders Proverbs 18:21. “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit–you choose.”

Let’s choose fruit. Let’s look for opportunities to speak life to our children–both in what we see happening now and in what God’s word equips us to proclaim. Here are a handful of ways we can start planting for the harvest:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ know that they are your masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things you planned long ago. (Ephesians 2:10)

May _____ grow in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with you and with other people. (Luke 2:52)

May _____ know that they are your special possession, called out of darkness into your wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Want to get your own copy of the books from my Instagram giveaway? Check out 100 Ways to Love Your Daughter and 100 Ways to Love Your Son from Lisa and Matt Jacobson:

100 Ways Books by Matt and Lisa Jacobson

And as always, when you order from these links, Amazon sends me a small compensation so that I can keep ordering books–and sharing my favorites with you. 🙂

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Three Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Marriage Partner

Children looking out church window

It’s never too early to start praying for your child’s marriage partner. We can ask God to choose our kids’ spouses and, through prayer, we can forecast his favor and blessing on our sons- and daughters-in-law, long before we ever meet them in person.

Consider how Abraham did it.

When the time came for Isaac to marry, Abraham had some fairly concrete ideas about the type of wife he wanted for his son. She couldn’t be a Canaanite; rather, he wanted someone from his own country, someone whose family acknowledged the Lord. Too old to make the journey himself, Abraham sent his servant to find a good match for his boy.

The servant stood beside a spring in Abraham’s hometown and, as the young women came out to draw water, he prayed a very specific prayer: “May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ — let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Obviously, Abraham’s servant was asking God for a sign. But I think there was more to his prayer than this. I think that when he prayed for a girl who would offer him water — and water his camels as well (all TEN of them!) — the servant was asking God to show him a girl with the kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, patience, and strength that Isaac would value in a wife. And indeed, Rebekah turned out to be all of these things, and more.

Be specific when you pray about your child’s marriage partner

Over the years, I’ve talked with parents who’ve come before God with all sorts of requests regarding their child’s marriage partner.

One of my friends — whose own folks divorced when she was a young girl — prays that her children will marry men and women from unbroken homes. Another mom asked God to let her kids find their mates early in life, both so they can enjoy the blessing of marriage as they “grow up” together and to lessen the pressures of sexual temptation during their young adult years. Two young men we know are praying for wives whose lives are marked by honesty, virtue, and a good sense of humor. And I recently met a young soccer player who led her team to a DI conference championship; she told me that she couldn’t imagine marrying anyone who didn’t love playing sports, so she’s asking God to set her up with an athlete.

Is it wrong to be so specific with God?

I don’t think so — particularly when our prayers are wrapped in an overarching desire to see God’s will be done. In fact, I think our heavenly Father loves to grant these requests. Not long ago, I heard from a young gal who was in a Bible study I once hosted for middle school girls. She’d just gotten engaged and when I asked her how she knew that “he” was the one, she laughed. “It was obvious!” she exclaimed. “He checked off every one of the prayers that I’d put in my journal when you told us to pray specifically for our future husbands. After praying these things for over ten years, he was easy to recognize!”

Three ways you can pray for your child’s marriage partner

So let me ask: What are your desires for your children’s marriages — and, in particular, for the people that they will marry?

Truth be told, I have kind of a long prayer list when it comes to my kids and their spouses, including the prayer prompts I shared in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then added to in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. (Because just like it’s never too early to pray for your child’s marriage partner, is it also never too late.) But there are three things that are tops on my list, prayers I return to again and again:

I pray that my kids will marry people who love God deeply — with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength — and who will love their neighbors as themselves. That’s a request rooted in Mark 12:29-31.

I ask God to give my children and their spouses good relationships with their parents, to grant them the blessings that Exodus 20:12 promises to those who honor their fathers and mothers.

And I pray that my kids’ marriages will be marked, as Ephesians 4:32 says, by kindness and compassion and a willingness to quickly forgive. (What marriage doesn’t need that?)

“Let him/her be the one You have chosen”

Our two eldest children, Hillary and Annesley, got married within four months of each other. Planning two weddings at once was…interesting. But what a joy it was, when Charlie and Geoff sought my husband’s blessing to marry our daughters, to look at these two young men — each one a living, breathing answer to twenty-plus years of prayer — and think to myself: “So it’s you!”

Annesley and Geoff leaving their wedding

 

Hillary and Charlie wedding photo

It’s never too early (or too late) to pray for your child’s marriage partner. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are single or married, four years old or forty, walking closely with Jesus or still finding their way; God hears every one of our cries. And his answers continue to unfold, long after we finish praying.

So let’s join our voices with generations of families who’ve gone before, praying as Abraham’s servant did: “Let her/him be the one you have chosen.”

Heavenly Father,

You can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

Grant that our children will be people — and marry people — who love you deeply. May they love others well and enjoy good relationships with their parents and in-laws. May they be kind, compassionate, and quick to forgive. (Mark 12:29-31, Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 4:32)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Annesley and Geoff celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary tomorrow. If you or someone you know is planning a wedding, you might find encouragement from reading their story. What’s that old saying? “Man plans and God laughs…”

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Teacher Appreciation Meets Mother’s Day

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. To all the professional teachers out there:  Thank you. For now, and for always.

It’s also Mother’s Day. And to all you moms who’ve added “teacher” to your job description in recent weeks (months? is it years yet?):  Thank you, too.

Some of you seem to be crushing it on the homeschooling front. My pal Elizabeth, for example, adopts a British accent when she teaches her children.  (Maybe she thinks they won’t realize she’s Mom?)

"British" teacher doing school with her kids

And I loved the way that Caitlin, a California mom, put her own COVID spin on the traditional Presidential Physical Fitness Test:

 

Clever, right? (I was more than a little impressed.)

Hope for the Overwhelmed Teacher-Mom

Honestly, though? I’ve heard from plenty of you who don’t feel so creative. You feel overwhelmed. Over-tired. Over it. You couldn’t muster up a British accent to say “Shaken, not stirred,” much less to give a spelling test.

One precious young mom sent me this:

teacher question meme

If that’s where you are, can I just offer two bits of advice?

First, hang in there. Don’t give up. Get yourself an index card (even a fake teacher has those at home, right?) and post Galatians 6:9 on the fridge:

Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9 graphic

 

And second: Don’t compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.

Seriously. That might be the best piece of parenting advice anybody ever gave me, when our kids were young. And it applies to pretty much everything, from your marriage to your job to your effectiveness as a freshly minted school teacher.

Life Lessons from Little League

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you may remember what happened back when I got drafted to coach Little League. Read that post here, if you want; the nutshell version is this:  I knew nothing at all about baseball, but that didn’t matter to my team, the Purple Wolves, at least not at first. We spent our practice time perfecting our cartwheels, working on our team cheer (a growl, paired with a threatening “wolf stance”), and honing our baseball-themed jokes (“Why did the sausage quit playing baseball? Because he was the wurst on his team”).

Life was pretty good. But then Game Day arrived.

I’d found a big old beach blanket so my team wouldn’t have to sit on the grass, and I’d packed what I thought was a strong lineup of snacks. My Wolves seemed pretty happy–until they looked across the field.

“Oh no…” one kid said.

I followed his gaze. The other team wasn’t seated just yet, but you could tell where they’d be. Every single one of the 14 spots in the opposing lineup was clearly marked on the ground by a carpet sample. A carpet sample! And on top of each tidy square sat a matching red water bottle, with a little baseball stopper on top.

“We’re gonna get killed!” a wolf moaned. A few others agreed. And fear spread through my team like wildfire.

Can I just interrupt myself here and let you know that this was tee-ball? If you know anything about tee-ball (and if you don’t, consider us friends), you know that nobody keeps score. You cannot lose. And you definitely cannot get killed. But try telling that to a bunch of kindergartners whose parents are stacked, three-deep, in lawn chairs on the sidelines. My Wolves had come ready to play…and yet they were already feeling defeated.

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

Watch Out for The Comparison Trap

We do the very same thing.

We can’t help it. We look across the fields of our lives (or our social media feeds) and see moms whose kids are smiling around the kitchen table, workbooks opened, pencils raised, and shirts (clean shirts!) buttoned correctly, while we sit there wondering if the corkscrew would make a good show-n-tell. Or if tracking the steps between the couch and the fridge counts as math.

You know? We can’t help it. We look around at how everyone else is coping with COVID-19 and we think to ourselves:  We don’t have what it takes.

We’re failing at this.

We’re gonna get killed.

We give insecurity a little foothold in our lives and then, like the Purple Wolves’ fear, it starts to spread.

Here’s the thing, though:  Anybody can look like they have their stuff all together, like they are leading a carpet-square life. And if we spend our time scrolling through what other people look like instead of focusing on who we really are—beloved children of God, whose power is made perfect when we are weak and whose grace equips us for every good work—we’ll be doomed. The comparison trap will feast on our joy and eat us alive.

So let’s not. Let’s stop looking across the field at the kids with their matching water bottles, and let’s look up instead. Let’s look at God.

Because He is looking at us. And, like the parents who turned out to watch the Purple Wolves play, He doesn’t care if his kids are sitting on carpet squares or a blanket.

He just wants us to know how much we are loved.

Heavenly Father,

Help me pay careful attention to my own work, getting satisfaction in a job well done, so that I won’t need to compare myself to anyone else. (Galatians 6:4)

Amen

❤️

And P.S., if you want a few prayers you can pray for a teacher (or, a-hem, for yourself), click here to download this printable card:

Teacher Prayer Printable

And if you’re looking for some fun new activities to incorporate into your daily routine, check out the FREE ebook from my friend Susan Yates. (I’m not sure the toilet paper fitness challenge is in there, but she’s got 100 other fantastic ideas!)

Cousin Camp eBook graphic

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Cover Your Child with God’s Presence

I don’t know who coined the term “prayer covering,” or who it was that first offered to “cover” someone in prayer. (Maybe it comes from verses like Psalm 5:12, which talks about God covering us with his favor?)

Again, I don’t know.

But when I was a guest on Focus on the Family last year, I said that one of the reasons I like praying the Scriptures so much is that, when we pray God’s Word over our kids, we literally cover them with the presence of Christ.

Cover our Children with God's Presence

 

John tells us that Jesus is the Word, and that He always has been. So when we use the Bible to shape our prayers for our kids – when we “cover” them with God’s promises – what we are really doing is blanketing them with His love.

With His protection.

With His very person. His presence.

During that radio interview, I mentioned a line from a poem I’d once heard – something about how when our children are young, we tuck them into bed and cover them with a blanket, but that when they are older and out of our reach, we cover them with our prayers. I didn’t remember the poem or its author, but the crack team of Focus on the Family researchers looked it up.

And sent it to me.

And I liked it so much that I figured I’d share it with you. The poem is called “Mother’s Cover,” and it’s by a woman named Dona Maddux Cooper. Here you go:

When you were small and just a touch away,

I covered you with blankets against the cold night air.

But now that you are tall and out of reach,

I fold my hands and cover you with prayer.”

Isn’t that a good one?

I don’t know where your children are today (and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure where my beloveds are, either!), but I do know that our kids are never out of God’s reach, and that He invites us to join Him in the work that He wants to do in their lives.

He invites us to pray.

And if you’re like me and you like the idea of blanketing your loved ones with God’s presence, here’s another “covering” verse we can pray:

Heavenly Father,

Cover ______ with your feathers. May they find refuge under Your wings. Let Your faithfulness be their shield. (Psalm 91:4)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I love the photo in today’s post, don’t you? I’ll be sharing more of the same on my Instagram (@jodie_berndt), thanks to the generosity of my super-talented photographer friend, Karen Woodard. Karen has an eye for finding the exquisite in the midst of the ordinary, and I can’t wait to show you more of her work!

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What Wisdom Does (besides make you look good)

Back before I wrote Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, I surveyed more than 100 parents about what they wanted God to do for their kids.

(And yes. That was a long time ago, before things like Facebook or SignUpGenius or whatever it is that hip people use to do surveys today. Back then, half the people I knew didn’t even have email. So when I say I surveyed people, think “carpool-line stalker.” That was me.)

Anyhow, when the answers came in, you can imagine the stuff people wanted. Things like safety and protection. Good friendships. Salvation, and the ability to use their gifts and talents for God. And all manner of character traits, from kindness and compassion…to diligence and self-control…to wisdom and discernment.

Which, as I think about it, might be one of the best prayers of all. Because asking God to give your children (or your spouse, or whoever) wisdom is asking Him to equip them to receive every other blessing He wants to provide.

Wisdom quote

When we ask God to give our children wisdom and discernment, we aren’t just asking Him to help them make good choices. We are asking God to open their minds to the way that he works, allowing them to respond to life with his perspective. And we’re setting them up for a lifetime of intimacy with Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The spillover effect from this type of relationship can be invaluable. Consider just a few of the things that wisdom can do:

It helps us manage time well. (Psalm 90:12)

It makes us better listeners. (Proverbs 1:5)

It provides direction and purpose. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It opens the door to things like happiness, riches, and a long life. (Proverbs 3:13-17)

It offers protection from the seductions that might lead us astray. (Proverbs 7:4-5)

It leads to strong, joy-filled family relationships. (Proverbs 10:1)

It even makes us look better! (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

(I mean, seriously. Who wouldn’t want some of that?)

So let’s ask God to fill our children (and all of our loved ones) with wisdom today. You can find plenty of prayer prompts in the book; for right now, though, here’s one of my fav’s:

Heavenly Father,

Fill _____ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that they might live a life worthy of you and please you in every way. (Colossians 1:9-10)

❤️

P.S. For more reflections on the value of wisdom, plus 10 biblically based wisdom-prayers you can personalize for your family, co-workers, or friends, check out Chapter 5 in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children.

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Pray for Your Children (and let ’em know it!)

(Note: This is Part 2 of a post about how we can pray for our children. It ran earlier this week over at Club31Women, a site where you can find encouragement for marriage, parenting, and all sorts of other good-for-life stuff, from menu prep tips to Bible study how-to’s.)

I’ll never forget the story that our daughter came home with after her first week at a new school.

“Mom,” six-year-old Hillary said, “I think my new teacher is a Christian.”

We’d just moved to town and didn’t know anyone. I was intrigued. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“I can tell because she prays,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ Some days, though, she just says ‘Oh God’ and puts her head down on her desk.”

I laughed—at first. But then I realized that the teacher’s prayer—Oh God, help—is one I’ve prayed over and over again, particularly in my parenting journey. And it’s a prayer that King David used a lot, too; Psalm 70 is pretty much one long cry for God to show up!

God, Help

God, help is a good (and perfectly legitimate) prayer. But there’s another strategy I like to use when I pray, especially when I pray for my children. I like to take the actual words we read in the Bible—words first breathed by God—and use them to give shape to my prayers. Not just to help define my requests, but also to influence my desires for their lives.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at when He said, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s John 15:7. It’s a powerful promise—and one that becomes easier to understand when we allow the Bible to illuminate our understanding and transform our perspective. When that happens, the cry of our heart becomes the very thing that God is longing to do!

And honestly? There is not a need we will face in parenting—or in any of life—that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in His word.

Say your child struggles with questions about their identity or their sense of self-worth. Psalm 139:14 can become a powerful prayer:

Help ________ realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are Your marvelous workmanship.

Or what about loneliness? Proverbs 27:17 speaks to that concern:

Surround ______ with wise and faithful friends, people who will sharpen them as iron sharpens iron.

And Scripture offers a treasure trove of promises about things like wisdom and guidance. Consider praying Psalm 25:4 for your loved ones:

Show _______ your ways; teach them your paths; guide them in your truth.

These are the sorts of easy prayer prompts you’ll find on this monthly prayer calendar (and if you prefer a version for teens or adult children, click here.)

Prayer Calendar for Children

When You Pray for Your Children, Tell Them!

And just as a side note… Let your kids know that you’re praying. Could there be anything more encouraging to a child than to know that their earthly parent is talking to their Heavenly Parent—the One with unlimited power and love—about the details of their lives?

I love what one reader has done, over the years. She jots her kids’ names in her copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and then dates them. “I show my kids some of the prayers with their name inserted in them to let them know I am praying,” she told me. “When I go back, I can see how I have prayed through different phases. I can see answered prayers – and so can they.”

Prayer Book for Children

When our children were younger, I’d sometimes write a prayer verse on a little card and tuck it into their lunchbox, or leave it on their pillow. And once a year, I’d trace their hands onto colored paper and write prayer verses on them. I’d post the hands on the fridge as a tangible reminder (to them, and to me) that God was at work in our lives.

Prayer Hands for Children

Now that my kids are older (and their hands are too big to fit on the fridge!), I make bookmarks. And when I find a new verse that speaks to a need they may have, I might send a text to let them know what I’m praying.

Do my kids roll their eyes at this stuff? They used to, sometimes—particularly when they were teenagers and they didn’t think they needed all that much prayer. But now that we’re on the other side of those years (and I say this to encourage anyone who’s slogging through a less-than-fun family phase) my kids actually ask me to pray.

Seriously.

They believe in the power of prayer. Like me, they have discovered that God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11 is true. That’s where He says that His word will not come back empty, but will accomplish the desires and the purposes for which it is sent.

God has wonderful plans for our children’s lives, and His word really does accomplish what He desires. Let’s allow it to breathe new life (and life-shaping power!) into our prayers.

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Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

Note: Plenty of parents have questions about why, or how, we should pray for our children. If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that’s a topic we love, and I was honored this week to share some thoughts about prayer over at Club31Women, a site dedicated to encouraging mothers, strengthening marriages, and helping us build healthy homes. Here’s that post…

Why Prayer for Our Children is Our Most Powerful Parenting Tool

“I know God loves my kids,” the young father said, “and I trust Him to work in their lives. So I don’t see why I need to do it.”

The man was talking about praying for his children. And I’d heard his logic before:  If God is all-powerful, and if He loves us, then why should we pray? Doesn’t He know what’s best? Won’t He just do it?

I’ve been writing and speaking about prayer for 25 years, and I meet plenty of moms and dads like this guy—folks who love God and want His best for their families, but say that prayer is not a big part of their parenting journey.

“I prayed, but nothing happened,” one mother told me. “I’m not convinced that prayer works.”

“I know God answers prayer,” said another, “but I don’t want to be clogging the lines with my children’s issues when someone with cancer or a marriage breakdown or something really big might be trying to get through.”

Perhaps the hesitation I hear most of all—the thing that keeps parents from praying—is that we don’t really know how. “I didn’t grow up in a home where people prayed,” a precious mom in my own church confided. “It feels awkward and unfamiliar to me. But I don’t want it to be that way for my kids. What can I do?”

What can I do?

I am by no means a prayer expert. Or a parenting one. But having raised—and prayed for—four kids who are now in their young adult years, I am convinced that prayer is the single most powerful thing we can do for our children. Not only that, but it’s what opens the door to freedom from worry and fear in our lives.

Think about it with me for a sec.

There will be times when we don’t really know what’s best for our kids (or when they won’t listen to us, when we do). And even if we do know what we want—healthy friendships, strong character traits, safety and protection—we can feel like our influence, or our ability to provide blessings like these, is woefully limited. And that can leave us feeling anxious, afraid, or ill-equipped.

Which is where prayer comes in. “Don’t worry about anything,” the Bible commands, “but pray about everything. Tell God your needs and thank him for what he has done.”

Pray. About. Everything. (Club31Women)

Pray. About. Everything.

That’s a command that pops up over and over again in the pages of Scripture; clearly, God wants us to talk to Him about stuff! Not only is prayer the power by which His blessings come into our lives, but it’s also a way to acknowledge God as the Source of these gifts. And prayer is a sign that we’re actually in a relationship. (After all, we confide in people we know and love, right? Why should it be any different with God?)

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll share a few strategies to equip us to pray, tips that can breathe fresh power and life into our convos with God. For now, though, let’s be honest about how we regard prayer…

 

Want to keep reading? Click here to head over to Club31Women and read the rest of the post.

Want some specific strategies that can breath fresh power and life into your prayers? Stay tuned for Part 2, which will show up next week.

Just want to pray? Alrighty then. Here we go:

Heavenly Father,

When I feel burdened or overwhelmed on behalf of my children, help me exchange fear for trust. Teach me not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything, telling You what I need and thanking You for what You have done. (Philippians 4:6)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I’ve loved getting to know the team of writers at Club31Women. And since today is actually National Authors Day (a little tidbit I picked up from my in-the-know pal Peyton over at AndOneMarketing), I hope you’ll check out what some of these gals have to offer:

Lisa Jacobson just released 100 Words of Affirmation Your Husband Needs to Hear. (And yes, there is a companion volume you can buy for your man. 😊)

Katie Westenberg blogs about how we can take God at his word and “choose brave” in life, both in the gut-wrenching times and our routine daily decisions. Her book, I Choose Brave, is available now for preorder.

And Sara Hagerty (you’ve met her in this space before, when I told you about The Best Book on the Beach) is all about helping us “scoot a little nearer” to God. Get ready to savor Sara’s exquisite writing – and to encounter God in new ways – when Adore drops in March.

Those are just three of the women I’ve grown to admire; the site also features posts from folks who write about cooking, organizing (yes please!), and understanding some of theology’s thorniest topics. Check ’em out when you can.

And given the whole “Author’s Day” thing (who makes this stuff up?), I was just thinking that we could stop for a second, since it’s November, and GIVE THANKS to the Author of Life.  I don’t know about you, but I’m glad He is still writing my story! 🙂

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Free “Must Have” on the Back-to-School List!

So I saw where today’s parents are spending, on average, nearly $700 per child on back-to-school shopping. Which is lot of notebooks and glue sticks. And when you factor in the mini-fridge or whatever else a college kid needs (I’m looking at you, Bed, Bath & Beyond Campus Checklist), that number climbs even higher.

Happily, there’s at least one must-have item that doesn’t cost anything. And honestly? Every kid needs it, whether they’re headed for kindergarten or college.

Robbie First Day of Kindergarten

I’m talking about back-to-school prayer.

Several years ago, I wrote about the ice-cream-and-prayer parties we used to host at the end of the summer. You can read that post here, but if you just want a few good prompts to help kick off the year (or to tuck in the lunchbox, maybe?), click here to download 12 of my favorites. This collection covers everything from listening to instruction…to having a teachable spirit…to making the most of every opportunity!

IMG_7041

Happy praying…and as you send your crew out the door this year, may the Lord watch over their coming and going, both now and forevermore! (Psalm 121:8)

❤️

And P.S. yes, I did make Robbie give a flower to his teacher. 🙂

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I’m nicer when I like my outfit (especially when my daughter picks it out)

I’m nicer when I like my outfit.

I'm nicer when I like my outfit

It’s true. I am. Trouble is, I’m a terrible shopper.

Our daughter Virginia, on the other hand, loves the thrill of the hunt. She knows what works (and what doesn’t), and she’s a firm believer that clothes really do “make the man.” Once, in middle school, Virginia bought a shirt from J. Crew for her boyfriend. Never mind that she did not yet actually have a boyfriend. “I want to date a guy,” she explained, “who would look good in this shirt.”

Anyhow, when Virginia heard that I needed a new pair of jeans (see last week’s post), she jumped in like a first responder and all but ambulanced me to Saks. “They are having a huge summer sale,” she said. “We need to go now!”

I’ll spare you the most painful details, but picture me (or maybe don’t) in a department store dressing room while my girl popped in and out, bearing armloads of clothing that she thought would suit me. “You could speak in this,” she said, brandishing an army-green dress that looked like it could be worn on safari. “And this would be a great going-out outfit!”

I looked at the wide orange pants and teensy silk top Virginia was holding. “Going out?” I echoed. “You mean, like, to the grocery store?”

“Mom!” she laughed – before handing over her bounty and heading back out into the wild.

I found myself alone in the room with five different white tops (Solomon says you can never have too much white), and I couldn’t help it. My mind started to wander. I thought back to when I first realized that Virginia (who was six at the time) knew more than I did about clothes.

In my defense, both Fraulein Maria and Scarlett O’Hara had done it before. I thought my plan to repurpose the curtain that hung in our kitchen – a valance I’d sewn out of fancy French fabric – was inspired. I ran some elastic through the curtain rod hole, sewed up the side, and popped the thing over Virginia’s head.

“What is this?” she inquired, looking dubiously at the green velvet pompoms that encircled her hem.

“It’s…a skirtain!” I said, more than a little bit pleased with myself. “It’s French!”

Virginia is nothing if not confident, and as she headed off to school I told myself that if anyone could pull off The Skirtain, it would be her. Looking back, though, I’m not sure even Scarlett, with her famed 17-inch waist, could have managed that thing. Regardless, it was the last time Virginia let me influence her outfit choices. And by the time she hit the fifth grade, she was questioning mine:

“You’re going out to the bus stop…like that?

(At 7:00 a.m.)

Her scrutiny rankled. Her clothing obsession seemed out of place. And finally, after the J. Crew incident (in which I ridiculed my daughter for buying a shirt for a fictitious boyfriend and she hotly corrected me in the store, saying that he was not fictitious but future), I decided to take my complaint up with God.

“God,” I said, “What is wrong with Virginia? How can she be so shallow? Who cares whether a dress falls above or below the knee level; doesn’t she realize that there are starving people in Africa who would be grateful for either hemline?”

“I made Virginia that way,” God replied. “She is my masterpiece. Her love for clothing and her artistic eye are gifts she will use.”

I knew God was quoting himself, drawing on Ephesians 2:10, but I was not satisfied. “But all that focus on appearance,” I pressed. “It just doesn’t seem very…Christian.”

(Seriously. I was telling God what I thought a Christian looked like.)

It seems funny – or maybe embarrassing – now, but it wasn’t, back then. God was speaking to my spirit, but he might as well have been talking out loud. And he wasn’t laughing.

“Do not mock your daughter,” I sensed him say. “Do not wish she were different. I gave her this gift, and it is one she will use to serve others.”

A tap on the dressing room door brought me back to the present. It was Virginia, with several pairs of good-looking jeans in my size. That were 70% off.

And as I stood there in White Shirt #4, it hit me:  Virginia – the daughter I’d once tried to change – was literally living out 1 Peter 4:10 in the middle of Saks:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

And I – the mom who had once asked God to “fix her” – was the one being blessed.

Use whatever gift you have received, 1 Peter 4:10

All of which is to say…

God’s grace really does show up in “various forms.”

And instead of questioning the way that God wired our kids (or wondering why on earth they would want to do this or that), maybe a better plan is just to release them. To surrender their lives fully to God, knowing that – as Philippians 2:13 so powerfully reminds us – it’s not up to us to change or shape other people.

God’s plans for our children might not look just like ours. Sure, as parents, we want to teach our kids right from wrong (and pray that they’ll pursue the former!), but more often than not, the things I worry about in my children’s lives are actually reflections of my own need for control, or my own desire to look good, based on the choices they make. And when I cling too tightly to my vision for what my children should do or become (instead of prayerfully releasing them into the Lord’s tender care), I risk missing out on God’s plan for their lives – his infinitely more wonderful plan.

In her book, Prayer PortionsSylvia Gunter offers a declaration of release that we can pray over our children, our spouses, or anyone whose life might be tied closely to ours. Read it here, or join me in praying this simple prayer for the people you love:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating _______ as your masterpiece, and for planning good things for them long ago. Please work in ______, giving them the desire and the power to do what pleases you. (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13, NLT)

❤️

P.S. I know this blog is already too long (and I promise not to post again for awhile!), but if you want more info on how to ask God to shape your children and use their gifts, check out chapters 3 (Praying for Your Child’s Gifts) and 17 (Praying for Your Child’s Purpose in Life) in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenHere are a few of the prayers that you’ll find:

And if you got stuck back there in the dressing room and you just want to know what I bought, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I passed on the big orange pants, I got two pairs of the jeans, and I actually did come home with the safari-style “speaking” dress.

Because, to finish the Mark Twain quote referenced above, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” 😊

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MOPS (and that time when our house caught on fire)

I love to speak to all sorts of groups, but MOPS women have a special place in my heart.

These gals–Mothers of Preschoolers–don’t ask for much. Give them a bagel, a smile, and two hours of child care and they’re happy. Thrilled, actually. The fact that they get to enjoy some adult conversation is just bonus material. (And honestly? I think some of these precious women would be okay if the speaker just turned down the lights and said they could nap.)

As an audience, they are delightful.

And as moms, they are committed. And strong. And hungry to learn. They get together not just for the company (or even the refreshments, which are way above par for church-based cuisine), but because they genuinely desire God’s best for their families, and they want to know what that looks like in real life.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but as an older mom who watched her youngest child graduate from college last weekend…

(and yes, that IS Robbie’s U.Va. graduation gown that he packed his stuff in), I felt privileged to share a few insights with our local MOPS group this week.

I told the young moms about the time that our house caught on fire.

We were in the midst of yet another remodel, and Robbie and Virginia (who were just one and two then) had gone down for their naps. The older two girls were off playing with friends, the construction crew was working outside, and our house was utterly, beautifully quiet.

Until the foreman started hollering at me, up the stairs, telling me that I had to “get them babies up!” because the house was “on FIRE!”

I stood there, staring down at the man. And wishing that he would stop yelling. Or at the very least, lower his voice.

(If you’re a mother, you get it. My dilemma was real. I mean, the babies had just nodded off…)

“Um…how bad is the fire?” I finally whispered. “Like, can you see actual flames?”

Not one of my finer mom moments, I know. But we’re all still alive, which is the main thing. And the other main thing is that this story is the perfect tie-in to Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is the Bible guy who rebuilt Jerusalem after the Babylonians demolished it. He faced opposition (some powerful people did not want his plan to succeed, and they kept up a barrage of abuse), but one of his main problems was simply the scope of the job. The city’s walls had been broken, its gates burned, and there was so much debris that the Jews (almost none of whom were professional builders) reached the point where they were ready to throw in the towel.  “The strength of the laborers is giving out,” they told Nehemiah, “and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.

Can anybody relate?

Weariness can be a killer–even if the job is something we care deeply about. Fatigue can sap our strength and cloud our judgment, making us think and do crazy things. Like wanting to give up on a key building project. Or letting babies sleep through a fire.

Nehemiah understood all of this. He knew what exhaustion could do–particularly when you’re already feeling attacked. And so he made a plan. You can read the fine print here if you want, but the gist is that he posted people together so that they could strengthen each other, and he made sure that his workers had weapons.

Which is exactly what we do when we pray with our friends, and when we use Scripture to ward off attacks.

Nehemiah stationed whole families together, positioning them along the most vulnerable and exposed spots on the wall. We do the same thing when we come together to pray. We spot a gap in the wall–a place where a child or a friend might be at risk–and we get to work. And when one of us gets too weary or discouraged to lift up our hands (which can happen sometimes, in the trenches), others step in. We stand firm, knowing that our labor is not in vain.

And, like Nehemiah’s workers, we rely on our sword. Hebrews 4:12 says our sword is the Bible, and that we can use it to separate the lies from the truth. Which, for a weary young (or old!) mother, can be a game-changer.

We may tell ourselves, for instance, that we are not up to the job, that we stink at the whole parenting thing. But God says that we are his masterpiece, and that motherhood is a calling that he has both equipped and prepared us to do.

We think that we’ve blown it, that we’ve ruined our kids by some awful thing that we said or we did. But God says that he’s our Redeemer, and he promises to work in all things–the good and the bad–for our good when we love him.

You get the idea. Whether we’re building a city or a family, we can’t go it alone. We need one another. We need prayer. And we need the wisdom of Scripture.

There is so much more we could say (and golly, the MOPS moms got an earful this week!), but I’ll just wrap up with this:

If you’re a young mom (or you know someone who is), consider checking out MOPS. There’s no pressure to do anything but show up–and when you’ve got little people that you want to love really well, the friendships you forge at the meetings can become your tether to hope.

And speaking of loving our littles, I did, in fact, wake my babies that day. The firetruck came–the whole neighborhood came–and everyone (even the firemen) wound up eating popsicles. It was a good day, all around.

Except that I went to bed that night very tired.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Mother’s Day from a New Mom

You need to know, right off the bat, that I am not someone who thinks that “Dogs are people, too.” I realize that I’ve probably offended half of you in saying that, but I can’t help that. The way I see it, dogs are dogs.

That being said, there are some definite similarities between humans and dogs. And ever since Minneapolis Bennett joined our family a few weeks ago, I’ve been having more than a few New Mom Feels. I don’t know which is harder, raising a baby or raising a puppy.

So far, I think it’s a tie.

Babies can’t feed themselves, right? Well neither could Minnie, at first. Thank goodness for four inches of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. “Every dog,” as Shakespeare reminds us (page 137), “will have its day.”

And the potty training thing? Getting to our yard requires a descent of five steps, and Minnie wasn’t having it. When I marveled at her reluctance, Robbie put things in perspective: “Asking her to go down those steps is like asking you to jump off a five-story building.”

Alrighty then.

Honestly though? The thing that made me feel most like a new mom happened just this past week, when I decided that Minnie should learn how to walk.

As in, on a leash.

As in, with me.

I did what any good parent might do. I asked Google.

I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that whichever dog-brain wrote that Step One in the teaching process is to “drop your end of the leash on the ground” needs to maybe be a little more clear on Step Two.

And all I could think, as I stood there staring at my dog-child while she stared back at me–chewing away at the tether and clearly not eager to stay anywhere close to my feet–was that God knew exactly how I felt.

Seriously.

God knows how all parents feel–especially when communication breaks down with our kids, or when they choose to walk down a path that we know is not good. I love how candid God is in Hosea 11, as he reveals his own parenting struggles:

“When Israel was a child,” God says, “I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.”

(Can anybody relate?)

And then God goes on, talking about how he taught his children to walk: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.”

Here again, I’ll spare you the details, (you can read em here if you want), but the nutshell version is that it did not go well. Israel wanted no part of God’s parenting. They pushed all of his buttons, in the worst kind of ways.

(I’ll ask it again:  Can anybody relate?)

And yet.

And yet God, even in his frustration, found his wrath trumped by compassion. He couldn’t help himself. He roared–not in anger, but with the fiercest of love–and called his wayward ones home.

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Mother’s Day.

If you find yourself raising a child who wants to go their own way–whether it’s a toddler whose potty training is not going much better than Minnie’s, a teen whose ears seem deaf to your voice, or an adult who has walked away from their faith (and maybe your family in the process), know this:

We’ve all been there.

“We all,” the Bible says, “have gone astray–each of us to his own way.” And the second part of that verse tells us that God–out of love–put our sin squarely on Jesus. Compassion trumped wrath, once again.

So here’s the good Mother’s Day news, for moms (and dads) in the parenting trenches: Just like God could not help but pursue Israel, so he cannot help but go after our kids. And our children, as I’ve said over and over again in this space, are never out of God’s reach.

Hang in there, Sweet Momma. You are loved. And so are your kids.

With the fiercest, and sweetest, of loves.

❤️

Oh, and one more thing. Or maybe three.

First, summer is here, and the blog’s hitting vacation mode. I’ll still write, but maybe not every week. (I figure we can all use the break.) 😉

Second, if you haven’t gotten Mom a card yet, there’s still time. What you write doesn’t have to be fancy or long; feel free to borrow from this stellar example, created by my friend Elizabeth’s six-year-old son:

 

“Joy comes in the morning. Go Hoos Go.” Clearly, that boy knows his Bible. And his basketball.

And finally, you all know how much I appreciate Eugene Peterson, and when I was re-reading Hosea 11, I decided to check it out in The Message. And I laughed out loud.

Because this is me, yesterday, giving up on Minnie’s walking lessons:

And this is Eugene, rendering Israel’s response to God’s love:

And this is Minnie, letting us know just how she feels about the whole “I’m with you” thing:

😂

Happy Mother’s Day!

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How Jesus might get to the Final Four

When our children were in preschool, the school nurse used to push a snack cart (loaded with treats that measured up to her strict nutritional standards) from classroom to classroom each morning. She genuinely loved the kids and her job, so I was surprised to see her storming down the hall one day, her face flushed with indignation.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“One of the children just called me her servant!” she exploded. “I didn’t know how to respond!”

I felt my eyes light up as I burst into laughter. “A servant!” I exclaimed “I can’t think of a higher compliment!”

Bewildered, the nurse stared at me for a long moment before moving on down the hall, again at a loss for words. She may have thought I was nuts, but at least she didn’t say so.

_________________________________________________

That’s how I started the chapter called “Praying for a Servant’s Heart” in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenAnd I couldn’t help but think back to that story this week–particularly the nurse’s confusion–when I read this article about the “Five Pillars” on which Coach Tony Bennett has built U.Va.’s basketball program.

Servanthood is one of Coach Bennett’s biggies, along with Passion, Unity, Thankfulness and Humility. And it’s easy to see why most of these attributes matter–and not just on the basketball court.

We cannot imagine a business succeeding without a passionate buy-in from its leadership. And  as any team member (or parent!) will tell you, unity is a good and pleasant thing, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Gratitude–whether toward other people or God–helps us focus on life’s bigger picture. And in addition to being an incredibly attractive character trait, humility equips us to withstand setbacks (cough-UMBC-cough) with strength and grace.

But…servanthood?

Nobody talks about servanthood all that much anymore. It seems an odd duck in a world where everyone’s goal seems to be to get to the top. Whether it’s in the NCAA tourney, a business venture, or the grocery store checkout line, we all want to be in control. We want to be first. We want to be great. And in a culture that rarely notices or rewards an others-centered outlook, you have to wonder whether cultivating a servant’s heart is all that important.

Coach Bennett evidently thinks so. And, as it turns out, so does Jesus. In fact, were He to map out the road to the Final Four, it might look something like this:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

That’s Mark 10:43-45. And trust me:  In bringing these verses into a basketball convo, I’m not being flippant. I love March Madness, but I love Jesus even more. And as we move toward Easter, I want my life to reflect His.

I want to pray for–and cultivate–a heart that bends toward others.

If you want that too–for yourself, or your kids–you’ll find a collection of scripture-based prayer prompts in the Children book, as well as in the Teens version. I’d go back and copy them for you right now but it’s Thursday night and U.Va. is about to tip-off against Oregon, and I really feel like they need me.

So I’ll leave you with just four of my favorites (along with some 💥bonus info 💥 below), knowing that–win or lose–Tony’s guys have got their Pillars in place.

Heavenly Father…

Let ______ do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility may ______ value others above themselves, not looking to their own interests by to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) 

Motivate ______ to serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving you, Lord, not people. (Ephesians 6:7)

Open ______’s ears to the cry of the poor so that they won’t be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13 NLT)

May _______ serve others in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Amen

(photo credits Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)

Bonus Material:

I’m traveling and taking next week off from the blog, so here’s a little P.S. to be thinking about:

The Philippians passage we prayed above goes on to tell us that our mindset should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, as he voluntarily made Himself nothing and took on a servant’s nature. So if you’re trying to instill a heart for service in your children (or, um, recognize it in your spouse), maybe keep the focus on attitude over accomplishment.

Like, if you happen to have daughters named Hillary and Annesley and they unload the dishwasher for you without being asked, and then you realize that all of your cupboards have dirty dishes in them, don’t freak out. Affirm your little helpers and thank God for answering your prayers.

❤️

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Hit the Ball Back

Every family, I guess, has its own lexicon.

Several years ago, I curated a few favorite Berndt sayings (things like Paddle hard, Eat the ugly frog first, and Keep chocolate handy) and painted them on a “Family Rules” board.

Paddle Hard is a take-off on Colossians 3:23, which served as a theme verse for our staycation one year.

The Ugly Frog is a twist on Mark Twain (“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first”).

And that bit about Chocolate? That’s just basic survival, to us.

I love this old board, but there is one rule–one good family rule–that I forgot to include.

Hit the ball back.

Hit the ball back began with our son, who views much of life through the lens of athletics.

As a preschooler, Robbie learned math. It wasn’t on purpose; we just parked him in front of the television (fourth child) and asked questions like, “How many points does U.Va. need to score in the next minute if we are going to beat Carolina?”

As a fourth-grader, Robbie sometimes forgot to turn in his assignments–until we explained that homework worked exactly like basketball:  It didn’t actually count unless you “sunk it” in the teacher’s basket.

And then one day, another dad offered to drive Robbie to lacrosse camp. I knew the fellas would be in the car for awhile, and I wanted Robbie’s conversation to sparkle. Trouble was, he had three older sisters, which meant we didn’t actually know whether our boy could talk.

It was time for some pregame coaching.

“When Mr. McKee asks you a question,” I said, “don’t just answer with a yes or a no. Pretend that whatever he says is a tennis serve, and return it. Give him something that he can hit back.”

I don’t know how the ride went (Robbie thought it was great, but then again, he thought he got all his SAT-Math questions right), but Hit the ball back became a family staple that day.

Years later, after our children were grown, I realized that nobody hit the ball back better than Jesus. Whether He served the ball or returned it, the Lord always invited folks to come play.

How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked, when the disciples wondered where they could find food for 4,000 people.

Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus wondered, sparking a dialogue that led to Peter’s confession:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked a blind beggar, the one who refused to stop shouting. “Rabbi,” the man replied, “I want to see.”

Jesus, of course, knew the answers. He knew how much bread was on hand, that He was God’s Son, and that the blind man wanted to see.

So…why all the questions? What was Jesus trying to do?

Think about it.

Jesus could have just blurted stuff out (“I am GOD!“), or healed people as He wandered by. Athletically speaking, though, that would be like Roger Federer, playing tennis with me. Federer could serve (or return) the ball 24 times, and the set would be over. And at the end of the match, I would never have moved from the baseline, my game would be unimproved, and–worst of all–I would not know a single thing about my amazing opponent (other than what I already did, from TV).

But that’s not what God wants for our lives.

God wants us to move. He wants us to grow. And most of all, He wants us to get to know Jesus.

Which only happens when we engage.

Jesus didn’t question the disciples for His sake (again, He already knew all the answers), but for theirs. He wanted to draw them into connection, to the place where their lives could be changed. And He still wants to do that today.

What do you have?

Just as the disciples offered their loaves, we can give God our resources and talents (meager as they might be), trusting Him to use them to satisfy many.

Who do you say that I am?

That was Christ’s question to Peter, and He asks the same thing to us. Either He’s God, or He isn’t. What do you say?

What do you want me to do?

This last question might be my favorite, because it’s God’s invitation to pray. The blind man probably figured that his need was obvious. When prompted, though, he made his request anyway. Let’s be like him. Let’s not shrink back. Let’s put our needs out there, knowing that we’ve been invited, and let’s hit the ball back when God serves.

❤️

Oh, that we might know the Lord!
    Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
    or the coming of rains in early spring. (Hosea 6:3 NLT)

Thank you, Lord, that we can know You, and that we can ask for Your help.

Today I need ______.

Thank You for Your promise to respond.

Amen

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Just a quick thought and a blessing

One of the best things about being a parent is getting to watch your children grow up.

That’s also one of the hardest things, particularly when the paths our kids choose don’t line up with our vision for what “their happiness” is supposed to look like, or when we aren’t really sure what God’s best plan is for their lives. It can be easy, during those iffy or uncertain times, to be tempted to give in to fear, or to worry because we aren’t really sure what how to pray.

But let’s don’t. Instead, let’s take back that ground with a blessing, releasing our ideas and agendas to God and trusting Him to accomplish his plans in the lives of the people we love.

And if you’re in a spot where maybe you don’t love a particular choice your child makes, know this: A blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, it’s simply a way of acknowledging God’s sovereignty in our children’s lives and inviting him to shepherd their future.

Just a thought. And if you like it, you’ll find a collection of well-loved “scripture blessings” in the Adult Children book.

For now, though, here’s our family’s favorite:

Heavenly Father,

Bless ______ and keep them; make Your face shine on  ______ and be gracious to them.

Turn Your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen

 

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Focus on the Family (and the antidote to worry and fear)

Last fall, I was honored–no, make that thrilled–to sit down with Jim Daly and John Fuller, co-hosts of the Focus on the Family radio program.

We talked about parenting, and how our prayers for our kids change as they grow. And we covered things like worry and fear, and the fact that (as much as we might not like it) God often shapes our faith in life’s valleys. And that He will shape our kids’ lives, and their faith, in those low places too.

Jim and John are the most gracious hosts. Plus, they’re great dads; I found myself wishing that I were the one asking the prayer-and-parenting questions, and not the other way ’round!

The program airs today, and if you’d like to check it out, click here.

But if all you’ve got time for is just one little thought, here’s an encouraging note from the show:

Prayer is the antidote to a parent’s worry and fear.

When we find out something that scares us–whether it’s the news that our first grader has been stealing crayons from the classroom supply closet, our teenager got pulled for drunk driving, or our adult child’s marriage is falling apart–our default response is often worry. Or anger. Sadness. Or fear.

(All legitimate emotions–and all places I’ve been.)

But what if that’s not the whole picture? What if God sees things differently? What if, instead of prompting us to panic, He is clueing us in to a problem–letting us see our child’s need–specifically so we can pray?

God has good plans for our kids. And prayer is His invitation to us to partner with Him in accomplishing His purposes–even when we don’t see how things could work out, or when it doesn’t look like the needle is moving. Prayer opens the door to provision, that God may be glorified in our lives.

If you’re facing something that’s making your heart ache today–something that fills you with worry or fear–remember God’s promise in Psalm 34:18. He is close to the brokenhearted. He saves us when we are crushed.

Lean into that closeness. Let God’s strong arms comfort you. He’s a parent; He gets it.

And then, as you draw courage and strength in God’s presence, don’t give panic a foothold. Instead, lift your head, along with your hands, and let your default position be one of prayer.

Heavenly Father,

You are the God of our family. You have loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with unfailing kindness.

Our children are your children. Save them, gather them, lead them along level paths where they will not stumble.

Turn our mourning into gladness; give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Satisfy us with abundance, and with your bounty.

(Excerpted from Jeremiah 31:1-14)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Robbie and I are so grateful for Focus on the Family, and for all the ways they have encouraged and strengthened our marriage, our parenting, and our faith. To access more info on everything from helping your kids overcome rejection to protecting your family against today’s opioid epidemic, click here.

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Mom, will you pray for me?

True confession. I am not much of a women’s retreat gal. All that hugging, all that talking, all those smiles.

Makes my face hurt, just thinking about it.

But when the folks at Moms in Prayer invited me to join them at the Unshaken retreat last weekend, I jumped at the chance. Heck, if they’d invited me to donate a kidney, I’d have jumped on that too. I’d do just about anything, in fact, for the women behind the ministry that has done more to shape my prayer life (and, by extension, my kids’ lives) than anything or anyone except Jesus.

And you know what? I loved it. I loved every single minute of our time in Asheville, North Carolina. The worship was amazing, the teaching incredibly rich, and even the endless smiling didn’t bug me as much as I’d feared. And since I know most of you were not there (although some of you were; it was great to meet you!), I am going to take a little detour from the usual blog post routine and recap a few highlights. These nuggets were golden for me; maybe they’ll encourage you, too.

Our first speaker was Jennifer Kennedy Dean. You may recognize her as the author of Live a Praying Life (hands-down, my favorite prayer study), but if not, here’s she is (pictured with Moms in Prayer founder Fern Nichols and me):

Noting that prayer is “proof of how much God loves us” (because he chose to work with us and through us, instead of around us), Jennifer talked about how God always answers the cry of our hearts. She pointed to Psalm 37:4 (“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”) and explained that the word delight comes from a Hebrew word that means “soft” and “moldable.” When God has our heart–when he molds it and shapes it–he gives us desires that we might not even be fully aware of…and then he says “yes.” Does that sometimes run counter to what our lips might be praying? Sure. But, as Jennifer said, “God isn’t interested in pacifying us. He is interested in satisfying us.”

Good stuff. I’m still processing how to get my head and my lips to line up with my heart, but I like it.

The next day, we heard Renee Swope:

I wasn’t familiar with Renee’s work (she has a book called  A Confident Heart), but I’m now a big fan. I loved her message on trusting God in the face of life’s triggers (things like doubt, fear, comparison, criticism, and our need for control), and I found myself utterly captivated as she talked about her teenaged son telling her he was an atheist. “I wanted to panic,” Renee said, “but I knew that would only make things worse.”

She asked God what she should do.

Don’t say anything,” she sensed the Lord say. “Just be who you say I am.”

Be who you say I am.

How awesome is that? I mean, we talk about wanting to model Christ’s love, and to treat people (especially our kids) the way that God does, but how often do we stop and think about what that looks like in real life? How, practically speaking, do we live out that love? How often do we default to criticism, nagging, worry, or fear when a better approach would be to be patient? Or gentle? Or kind?

Or even to just be with our child?

Renee’s son eventually gave his life to the Lord. I can’t share the whole story here (I’d mess it up if I tried), but I’m crazy about the punch line:

“I just got tired,” the young man said, “of living without hope.”

Wowza.

And finally, on Sunday morning, Fern Nichols got up. (You know how our daughters feel about getting to see Taylor Swift? Yeah. That’s basically how these praying moms–and grandmoms–felt about Fern.)

Fern started Moms in Prayer in 1989, back when her kids were in middle school, and for the past 40 years, she has encouraged mothers all over the world with the call of Lamentations 2:19: “Arise, cry out… Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children.”

You’d think, what with this being a Moms in Prayer thing, that the 400+ attendees wouldn’t need a refresher on the Four Steps of Prayer (the strategy that shapes every MIP meeting), but no. We did. And at the risk of dumbing things down (and please click on that link to get a bigger picture), here are the Cliff Notes:

Step One is praise. Praising God takes our eyes off our circumstances and focuses it on the One who is able. Whatever the need, he is equipped to meet it.

Step Two is silent confession because, as Fern put it, “a pure heart is behind every effective prayer.” If we’re sitting there hating our husband (or cherishing any other ick stuff), we can’t expect our prayers to get through.

Step Three is thanksgiving. Every sin, Fern said, stems from pride. When we take time to thank God–to acknowledge his grace and provision–it’s a reminder that all that we have, and all that we are, comes from him.

And Step Four is intercession, naming our children’s needs–as well as the needs of their teachers and schools–and asking God to meet them. This is where praying the scriptures really comes in, as we rely on God’s promises to shape our perspective and give life to our prayers.

If you’re already part of a Moms in Prayer group, you know all of this. But if you’re not, and you’d like to know more, click here.

But here’s the thing. Don’t try to go it alone. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two; he knew that they’d need one another. And so do we. Grab at least one other mom and invite her to pray.

So there you have it. I’ve left out 98% of my notes, but I hope you’ve connected with something I’ve shared–and that the next time your child says, “Mom, will you pray for me?”, you’ll feel a bit more equipped to jump in.

And I know. Right now, some of you are thinking, “Yeah, right. My kid asking for prayer? That’ll be the day.”

I hear you. But…can I just say three things?

First, I get it. I’ve been there.

Second, we worship a God of surprises. Don’t count him out.

And third, let’s go back to Jennifer’s teaching. Because maybe your child’s lips aren’t asking for prayer, but that is the cry of their heart.

And when that happens, we can slip our hand into God’s and say “Yes.”

(That’s my cute friend Lynn. She is the kind of prayer partner you want. Not only does she pray with boldness and faith, but she’s a complete fashionista and half the time, when she sees you, she gives you a new scarf. 😊)

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The best parenting tip? Hint: It’s not the chore chart…

In case you missed it…

I was honored (and more than a little intimidated!) to write a guest post this week for Club31Women, where they are all about equipping folks to enjoy strong marriages, healthy families, and joy-filled homes. And all I could think, as I recalled the early days of our parenting, was how I longed to get it all right. Thank goodness God has a good sense of humor–and that he is faithful in the midst of our mess!

 

It was one of those days. None of my “good parenting” strategies seemed to be working.

I looked at the chore chart on the fridge. Half the stuff was not done.

The character chart? The one where the kids could earn stars? Let’s just say we had a lot of white space.

And the Bible memory verse I had posted? Please. Why don’t they tell you to aim lower, maybe with something like John 11:35?

Jesus wept. Roger that.

As I said, it was one of those days. We’d had four kids in six years, and as I looked around at the mayhem (and found the missing cat in the refrigerator—“It’s the orphanage, Mom!”), something snapped.

“Can anybody,” I challenged, “tell me a Bible verse? Just one. I will take anything.”

Four little bodies stopped moving. Four sets of eyes (not counting the cat’s) stared into mine. Nobody spoke, until finally Robbie—aged 5—offered this:

“Don’t slip?”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Robbie back-pedaled. “Wait,” he said. “Maybe that one is a pool rule…”

Wanna see where this post goes? Click here to keep reading–and while you’re at it, check out all the fabulous marriage and parenting helps over at Club31Women.com.

And maybe pray for Virginia. Last weekend, she told us that she’s got her eyes on another kitten she wants to adopt…

 

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Never give up (on the people you love)

Two things this week have me camping out on the fatherhood of God and his dogged–relentless, even–pursuit of our hearts.

The first thing was the inauguration of U.Va.’s 9th president, Jim Ryan.

(And I know, I know. Some of you are like, “U.Va. again? Why does she always write about that?” To which I would say:  Hello? Did I write even ONE WORD about our victory over nationally ranked Miami, or last week’s road win at Duke? Feels to me like a U.Va. shout out is a bit overdue.)

(But this is not a U.Va. shout out.)

Anyhow.

In his inaugural address (which was fabulous; if you missed it, click here), Ryan likened teaching to parenting. He noted that both endeavors were based on the faith that the job–despite being a sometimes messy process with unfinished and imperfect results–was worth doing, and that as both a parent and as a university president, he would “never give up on the people I love.”

Which brings me to the second thing.

The second thing that happened this week was that I started reading Genesis.

You know the story. God makes Adam and Eve. And then they eat the fruit that they shouldn’t. And when they realize what they’ve done, they get scared and try to hide from God in the garden.

God knows, of course, that his kids are over there in the trees. And when he says, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9), he isn’t really after their physical location. He is asking where they are, spiritually–as in, where Adam and Eve are in relation to him.

I read that line and, as a parent, I thought back to the times when I felt like my own children were hidden. The times when they felt far away. Emotionally distant. Out of reach (even if they were just across the table, at dinner). The times when I watched them pursue relationships or activities or ideas that, I knew, would not produce good things in their lives.

The times when family life felt a little bit messy.

And then I thought about God, and how he must sometimes feel the same way towards us. Over and over again in the Bible (just as over and over again now), God’s children go wandering off, turning their backs on his love. And we see what God does in response.

Sometimes, we see his desire:  How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)

Other times, we see his promise: My people are determined to turn from me…my compassion is aroused…I will roar; they will come…I will settle them in their homes. (Hosea 11:7-11)

Always, though, we see his pursuit. From the “Where are you?” Genesis question all the way to the “I stand at the door and knock” of Revelation 3:20, we see God calling to us. Wooing us. Inviting us into a life marked by purpose, passion, and joy.

And demonstrating, always and forever, that he will never give up on the people he loves.

So…that’s why President Ryan’s speech, taken together with the Genesis story, made me think about God. With one major difference.

Ryan’s presidency, like our parenting, can’t help but yield (as he freely noted) imperfect and unfinished results. But it’s different with God. With God at the helm, we can be confident that, having begun a good work in our lives, he can be counted on to complete it.

He will get the job done, and the results will one day be perfect.

(Which, even though this is NOT a U.Va. blog, is a promise that I would dearly love to see fulfilled on the field, as we take on the Tarheels tomorrow…)

❤️

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being the embodiment of love. You are patient and kind; you keep no record of wrongs. You protect, you hope, you persevere.

You never fail. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Let us never grow weary in doing good, especially to the people we love. And when we feel downcast or discouraged, remind us that you know just how we feel, and that there is a promised harvest, at the perfect time, for those who never give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Amen

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Forget the iPotty; Add Prayer to Your Baby Wish List

I’ve been to a few baby showers in recent months, and I’m amazed at all the stuff you can buy. Today’s registries include everything from traditional onesies and blankets to what-the-heck items like the Baby Butt Fan (“experts agree” that air drying prevents diaper rash), the iPotty (because apparently today’s toddlers don’t want to miss a minute of screen time), and the Kickbee (a thing pregnant moms wrap on their bellies to digitally detect baby’s kicks–and then tweet them out to the world).

(I know. How did my generation make it through nine months without that?)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in addition to burp cloths and bottles, we could add character traits to our cart? Think about it. Expectant mothers could add things like wisdom, kindness, and self-control for their kids. I might register for gentleness and patience, and an others-centered outlook on life. And wouldn’t we all want gifts like perseverance, integrity, a joyful spirit, and a thankful heart?

The list, of course, could go on. And how cool would it be if all we had to do was throw a shower and have our friends bring us these blessings?

Happily, God’s got another–better–way to give these good gifts to our kids. He invites us to ask him for them.

In his book, How to PrayR.A. Torrey says that prayer is “God’s appointed way for obtaining things, and the great secret of all lack in our experience, in our life and in our work is neglect of prayer.”

Torrey’s not the one who came up with the link between asking and receiving; we see that played out in the Bible (see, for instance, Matthew 7:7 and John 16:24). For a lot of folks, though, Torrey’s words can feel daunting. We know we should pray, but sometimes we don’t–and we can beat ourselves up over that lack.

And perhaps no one beats themselves up more than young moms. This comment, shared last week on a friend’s Instagram post, pierced my heart:

I was such a good pray-er until God blessed me with a second boy. I have three energetic sons, ages 3, 5 and 1. Between teething and nighttime breastfeeding and everything else, I feel so bad in all spheres. And I feel guilty.

Boy, can I ever relate. Robbie and I had four kids in six years, and honestly? I don’t know how today’s mothers do it. I see them making their own baby food and checking labels for all things organic; I remember dumping Trix cereal out on the high chair and hoping that counted as fruit.

And prayer time? That was reserved for people who had fewer kids and less laundry than I did. Any time I heard about some Varsity Christian who spent hours in prayer (like the persecuted people on the other side of the world all seemed to be doing) I’d want to throw in the prayer towel and quit. “I’m just not that holy,” I’d think to myself. “I’m just not that good.”

And I’d feel bad for my kids, cuz I knew they had a lame-Christian mom.

But then I met Cynthia Heald, a best-selling author whose books include Becoming a Woman of Prayer“I’d like to be a woman of prayer,” I told her, “but I’m not. I almost never have time to sit down with my notebook and a Bible to pray–and I feel like my prayers don’t really count.”

Cynthia set me straight. “You can pray in the carpool line,” she said, “or while you’re washing dishes. Pray while you walk through your neighborhood, or while you clean the bathroom. It doesn’t take a lot of time or preparation to meet God. Just go to him, and you’re there.”

Now, I am sure that Cynthia Heald would encourage all of us to make time in our schedules for some concentrated, uninterrupted prayer, but her gentle advice to “just do it” got me started. I began to pray while I drove, while I made lunches, and even while I scrubbed toilets, using (and I realize this sounds kind of pathetic) the smell of Lysol, in place of biblical incense, to remind me to pray.

All of which is to say (especially to the new mamas out there):  Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t believe the lie that your prayers have to be perfect, or long, or written down in a beautiful faux-leather journal to count.

That season will come.

For now, take your parenting cue from the disciples. Granted, they never had to make a Pilgrim costume out of a grocery bag and brown packing tape, but they did need to know how to pray–and so they asked Jesus for help. They asked him to teach them, and we can do the same thing. We can ask God to show us how to pray, and to help us make the most of our minutes.

God knows what it’s like to have kids and to want good things for their lives. Prayer is the vehicle he invented for us to ask him to provide.

And all we have to do is…just do it.

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to live wisely and well. (Psalm 90:12 MSG)

Prompt us to lift up our hands to you and plead for the lives of our children. (Lamentations 2:19 NLT)

And remind us, when we are weary and worn, that we can come boldly before your throne, knowing that your grace is always there to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

Amen

(Note to moms eyeing the iPotty: We used that book, Toilet Training in Less than a Daywhich, if I remember right, worked really well and only required salty chips, candy rewards, and like 17 gallons of apple juice.)

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Duct-taping Your Kids (and other Mom Fails)

“Wait. Mom. Are you reading your own book? That is just so…sad.”

That was Virginia, more than 10 years ago, when she burst into my bedroom and discovered me sitting up in bed, reading my copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. What Virginia didn’t know was that I was using the book to help shape my prayers for her life. All she could see was her mother doing something that looked, to her teenaged eye, pretty pathetic.

Happily, Virginia is all grown up now, and she doesn’t think it’s strange when I pray. Or when I read my own books. Which is a good thing, since I was at it again yesterday. I was thinking about a friend who is going through a rough patch in her parenting, and I turned to the chapter about parent-child relationships to find some good scripture-prayers. And I came upon this:

I wrote those words nearly 20 years ago, but honestly? They mean so much more to me now. Because the older I get, the more aware I am of how far I fall short. Of how often I’ve let my kids down. Of how my weaknesses (especially in parenting) don’t seem to be going away.

I remember being a young mom, and wanting so badly to set a good example for my kids. I wanted to be able to change diapers, run carpools, and help with science projects–all while being wise, resourceful, hospitable, encouraging, diligent, creative, generous, faithful, watchful, vigorous, strong, and cheerful. That’s not a list I made up; I read it in Proverbs 31. And if that was God’s standard for an excellent woman, then that’s the mark I wanted to hit.

Hold on, all you Bible scholars out there. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me that the Proverbs 31 woman was not a real woman, but rather a type of woman. Or that she was really a conglomeration of admirable attributes manifested in the lives of several different women. Or that she was nothing human at all; rather, she was the personification of wisdom, showing us what wisdom might look like, if we could see it in action.

Blah blah blah.

I know all of that. And I knew it, back then. But I’ve always liked clear objectives–targets to shoot for–and the attributes of the Proverbs 31 woman are nothing if not well-defined.

(Literally. Proverbs 31:17 even talks about her fabulous biceps.)

And so I tried. I started by checking off the verses I had covered. Things like sewing clothing and curtains (which I actually did, back then), working late into the night (which seemed both noble and necessary, at the time), and getting up while it was still dark (which was the only time my mom friends could meet up for a run). Verses 19, 18, and 15. Done.

At first, I felt good. I was on a Proverbs 31 roll. How hard could it be, to buckle down and check off the rest?

Ha.

You know what happened.

I couldn’t do it. Forget about planting a vineyard or bringing food from afar (v. 16 and 14); there were days when I could barely get to the store (and even then it was not anything to be proud of, as I jammed all four kids into one grocery cart and piled boxes of Kraft mac-n-cheese on their heads). And that part about “faithful instruction” (v. 26)? Unless you count that time I got so tired of listening to Hillary and Annesley bicker that I duct-taped them together and made them clean all the toilets one-handed, I’m not sure they learned all that much.

(Simmer down, people. It was only their wrists. And only one arm per girl. I am pretty sure they were…fine.)

Anyhow.

The more I tried to be an exemplary mom, the more I became, as my friend Kenzie put it, “the Proverbs 32 woman.” Who is not, as we all know, someone who shows up in the Bible.

If you want to read more (like, if epic mom-fails are your thing), you can pick up the book, but for now I’ll just get to the point and say this:  My weakness was where Jesus came in.

Truly.

And that’s where he still does.

Because no matter how hard I tried–or how hard I still try–to do everything “right,” there will always be days when I blow it. I will do and say things I regret. And, unlike the Proverbs 31 mother, I will never know what it’s like to have my kids get out of bed in the morning and call me Blessed. (But don’t think that I haven’t thought about picking that as my grandmother name, if and when that time comes.)

But you know what I’ve learned, after 30 years of mom-fails? I’ve learned that the less I rely on my own abilities and the more I rely on Christ–and the more I let my children (even now, as adults) see me depending on him for wisdom, guidance, and strength–the more I will be able to set the only example that’s worth following.

Instead of saying, “Look at me,” I can say, “Look at Jesus.”

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that we don’t have to be perfect parents–that we don’t even have to be close. Help us, and our children, to rely on your wisdom and grace. And instead of trying to “do good” or “be good” by ourselves, may we look to you and your strength; may we seek your face always. (Psalm 105:4)

Amen

 

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Grad Tip for Parents: Let God Pick Your Kid’s Career

 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.

It’s graduation season, and I can’t think of a more encouraging verse than Psalm 32:8. Whether our kids are headed to college, to new jobs, or into the great unknown, the whole “What’s next?” thing can be daunting! And as parents, our hearts can feel like a tangled mess of emotions:  pride of accomplishment, sadness over the chapter that’s closing, or even (particularly when we don’t know what the future holds) uncertainty, with maybe a little worry mixed in.

The pride and the sadness are both beautiful things; why else would 97% of all high school yearbooks and 29% of commencement speeches give the nod to Dr. Suess:  Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened?

The uncertainty thing, though, is not so much fun. And if that’s where you are (like, if your child needs a job), I’ve got three things that might help.

The first is something Virginia (who was a college senior at the time) told me, as we discussed her (still hazy) future. “Mom,” she said, “Research shows that 72% of college students don’t have a job lined up before graduation.”

I don’t know whether Virginia was right or not. A point in her favor is that she actually worked in U.Va.’s Career Services office, where she would have had access to numbers like that, but you have to stack that against the fact that she is her mother’s daughter, and statistics (like that bit about yearbooks and speeches) sometimes get made up on the spot. Either way, though, the data made me feel better. And if it helps you to repeat this 72% claim, you can say that you read it in a blog.

The second thing that can help is prayer. It’s not just that you get a “peaceful, easy feeling” when you pray for your child; it’s more that when we bring our sons and daughters before God, we really are making a difference. As Paul told the Corinthians“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (Paul and his pals weren’t looking for work; they were more concerned with facing “deadly peril,” but the principle is the same. Our prayers matter.)

And finally, it can be good to remember the plan. We might not know what it is, but after praying (and yes, worrying) three kids through the job-hunting process, I’m finally coming to realize that God does. He knows exactly how our children are wired (Psalm 139:13-16); he’s already lined up good work for them to do (Ephesians 2:10); and he promises to instruct and counsel them in the way they should go (Psalm 32:8). Our job isn’t to worry or nag; our job–if we want to get on board with God’s plan–is simply to trust him.

So there you go: Repeat iffy statistics, pray for your kids, and trust God. And if you want help with tip #2, the folks at FaithGateway surprised me a few weeks ago when they sent word that they’d pulled a collection of prayers from the Adult Children book and created a beautiful “Praying for Your Graduate” resource for parents (click here to download):The guide includes 21 prayers, all neatly divided by seven so that you can pray one every day for three weeks.

Which, research shows, is about how long it takes for the average college grad to land his first job. 🙂

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Red Roses for Empty Nesters

Not long ago, I talked with a gal who told me that when each of her children turned 21, she sent her husband a dozen red roses. “Nobody was in jail, nobody had gotten pregnant, and nobody had killed anyone,” she said. “I figured that we were done, that we’d made it–and I was ready to celebrate!”

But then her kids’ grown-up lives began, bringing with them a whole new set of issues and concerns, and this sweet mama discovered what generations of moms and dads who’ve gone before know:

You never stop being a parent.

Looking back, my friend laughs at her naiveté. Honestly, though? I think she was onto something. Sure, our grown-up kids will face complex and sometimes life-shaping challenges (“little people, little problems; big people, big problems” and all that), but the promise in Psalm 127:3–that children are a reward from God–doesn’t stop being true when they reach adulthood. And if we wait to celebrate the milestones in our children’s lives until they are tied up with a bow, all pretty and neat, we risk missing out on this gift!

If you’ve read even one or two chapters in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Childrenyou know that most of the folks whose stories appear in the book are still praying about the outcomes in their kids’ lives. They’ve all seen God’s faithfulness at work, and yet none of them would say that the process is “finished.” They are all–we are all–still counting on God’s mercy and his grace.

And we are counting on each other. Truly.

It can be hard, when you hit the empty nest years, to maintain close contact with other parents (I know, for instance, how much I miss the easy, organic connections with friends I made at school fundraisers, or on the sidelines of our kids’ sporting events). That’s one of the reasons I wrote a Study Guide for the book: I wanted moms and dads to be able to understand and apply God’s promises, and I wanted us to have a launching pad to discuss (and to pray) these things–both for our own children, and for other young adults who “belong” to us through the blessing of friendship.

 

(The Study Guide is free; click here to download it from the “Resources” page on my website.)

Let’s not wait to celebrate. Prayer is God’s invitation to us to partner with him in accomplishing his good and redemptive purposes, and he knows exactly what we need (and what our kids need!), even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). So let’s go ahead and slip our hand into God’s, tethering our prayers to his promises.

And with or without the red roses, let’s come alongside other parents who are in our same season, slipping our hands into theirs with mutual encouragement, friendship, and love. Let’s lift up all of our kids, celebrating the fact that even if their bows are not all the way tied (or if, a-hem, they look swaddled in duct tape, like some of the gifts we opened this Christmas), God thinks they are beautiful.

And he is still writing their stories.

🌹

P.S. Speaking of duct tape… I apologize for the delay in this blog (I like to post on Fridays), but it took me a little while to stick the pieces of my heart back together after U.Va.’s performance in the Military Bowl. Really, the only bright spot (apart from the glittering first 12 seconds of the game), was that we lost to Navy. It’s hard to be sore about losing to a bunch of guys who love our country so much.

Congratulations, Midshipmen. And if you can deal with the bad guys half as well as you dealt with the Cavaliers, we’ll all rest easy at night.

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Parenting in Freedom and Grace (plus a book giveaway)!

Ever feel like your kids’ future is riding on you? Or like you have to be perfect (or at least really good) so that they’ll have an example to follow? Or like God is watching the way that you parent…and that if you blow it, he’s gonna be bummed?

Yeah, me too.

I think I told you about the time Robbie took the SATs. He’d spent most of his childhood playing outdoors, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing him read. Did he know any vocabulary words? I wasn’t sure. And so, in a last-ditch effort to redeem my academic parenting fails and get him prepped for the test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and turned them into flashcards. If Robbie learned even just two or three words while he played, that might help.

Oh how I wish I’d had Jeannie Cunnion’s new book, Mom Set Free, back then! She could have saved me a lot of angst (and kept me from ruining Robbie’s lacrosse stick, cuz the mesh part turned pink when the Sharpie marker wore off).

As it is, I’m highlighting and starring and underlining pages in Jeannie’s book now. My kids may be grown, but I still need all the help I can get when it comes to rejoicing – and actually relaxing – in the blessing of being a mom.

As the book’s cover proclaims, Jeannie’s heart is to free moms from the pressure to get it all right. Our kids’ future (whether they’re headed to kindergarten or college) is not in our hands, any more than it’s up to us to “make” them honest and kind, strengthen their faith, or protect them from hardship. All of those things – and so many more – are ultimately up to the Lord. He has good plans for them (ideas that are way better than ours, BTW), and as Philippians 2:13 reminds us, it is God’s job (as in, not ours) to work in them to “will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

Don’t get me wrong. Jeannie isn’t trying to get us to sit back and do nothing. Parenting, she says, is hard work – and it involves discipline and boundaries and consequences. But it also involves grace – huge buckets of grace! – the kind that frees us to discipline and teach and correct our children without relying on anger or scare tactics or shame. As Jeannie sees it, parenting with grace is what lets our kids know (the way that God lets us know), that even when they make unlovable choices, they are still (and forever will be) deeply, unshakably loved.

Ahhhh…there’s so much good stuff in this book. And – whoop! – I actually got to be with Jeannie this week to celebrate the Mom Set Free launch. She was a guest on the 700 Club (click here to watch her interview), and some of my young mom friends came over to my house beforehand to get her warmed up:

To see a clip from that interview, you’ll have to head over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt)…but first, I’ve got some good news. I managed to snag an extra copy of Mom Set Free while Jeannie was here, and I want to give it to someone! Post a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a winner at random (unless you are a patent attorney who thinks that my SAT-word lacrosse balls are marketable product, in which case I will probably pick you).

Seriously, y’all. I love it when I get to recommend a book that combines my two favorite things:  Loving my kids and following Jesus. And Mom Set Free is chock full of great verses; I’ll borrow this one from p. 236 and leave you with a parenting prayer:

Lord, you have promised to fight for me. Help me to do what you say and just stay calm! (Exodus 14:14, NLT)

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